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New Zealand Mosque Gunmen Shocks with Turn to Guilty Plea

New Zealand Mosque Gunmen Shocks with Turn to Guilty Plea

Thursday, 26 March, 2020 - 07:15
In this file photo taken on March 16, 2019, Brenton Tarrant stands in the dock during his appearance at the Christchurch District Court. (Photo by Mark Mitchell / POOL / AFP)

An Australian man accused of killing 51 Muslim worshippers in New Zealand's worst mass shooting pleaded guilty to all charges in a surprise change of mind on Thursday.

Brenton Tarrant, who appeared by video link, admitted to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one charge of committing a terrorist act in a hastily called Christchurch High Court hearing.

"He has been convicted of each and every one of those charges," presiding judge Justice Cameron Mander said in minutes of the hearing released by the court.

"The entry of guilty pleas represents a very significant step towards bringing finality to this criminal proceeding."

Tarrant, 29, has been in police custody since March 15, 2019, when he was arrested and accused of using semi-automatic weapons to target Muslims attending Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch. The attack was streamed live on Facebook.

Tarrant's guilty plea makes a six-week trial that was due to begin in June redundant. The court will instead move directly to sentencing Tarrant on all 92 charges. It did not provide a date for that sentencing and Tarrant was remanded in custody until May 1.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she let out "a massive sigh of relief" when she heard of the guilty pleas although it was “deeply disappointing” that the victims didn't get to attend the hearing.

"The whole nation, but particularly the Muslim community, has been spared a trial that could have acted as a platform," Ardern said.

Aarif Rasheed, a lawyer working with some victim families, said they were not given any indication of why Tarrant changed his pleas from not guilty.

"Any possible explanations are speculative but we do know terrorists are often seeking a sense of self-importance and attention to their cause," Rasheed said.

Tarrant, who faces a lifetime prison sentence, had posted a 74-page "manifesto" on social media ahead of the attack that called immigrants "invaders" and referred to "white genocide", a term used by white supremacists to describe the growth of minority populations.

The attacks had shocked New Zealand and prompted new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons. It had also prompted global changes to social media protocols after the gunman livestreamed his attack on Facebook, where it was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.

Thursday’s change in plea came less than two weeks after New Zealanders commemorated those who died on the anniversary of the March 15, 2019, attacks.

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