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Man accused of killing 51 people in Christchurch mosque massacre smiles and pleads not guilty

Self-proclaimed white supremacist Brenton Tarrant appeared in court via audio-visual link.

A memorial in Canberra to the victims of the shooting.
A memorial in Canberra to the victims of the shooting.
Image: AAP/PA Images

THE MAN ACCUSED of shooting dead 51 Muslim worshippers in the Christchurch mosque attacks in March smiled as his lawyers entered not guilty pleas to multiple murder and terrorism charges.

Brenton Tarrant’s barrister told Christchurch High Court his client was pleading not guilty to all charges, prompting anger from survivors and relatives of those killed in the 15 March attacks.

The self-proclaimed white supremacist appeared in court via audio-visual link from a maximum-security prison in Auckland for the brief hearing.

Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian national, was committed to stand trial next year on 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and engaging in a terrorist act.

His smiling demeanour enraged survivors still reeling from the worst massacre in modern New Zealand history, who had packed the courthouse’s public gallery for a glimpse of the accused.

Fit for trial

Tarrant allegedly opened fire in the packed Al Noor mosque during Friday prayers, then travelled across town to continue the carnage in the suburban Linwood mosque, while livestreaming his actions on social media.

The court heard that mental health assessments had found Tarrant was fit to stand trial.

“No issue arises regarding the defendant’s fitness to plead, to instruct counsel, and to stand his trial. A fitness hearing is not required,” Judge Cameron Mander said in a statement shortly after the hearing.

The judge set a trial date of 4 May, 2020, with proceedings expected to last at least six weeks, although some lawyers warned the case — sure to be one of the biggest-ever in New Zealand — could go twice as long.

New Zealand Mosque Shooting Media interview mosque shooting victims outside the court. Source: Mark Baker/PA Images

“The court endeavours to bring serious criminal cases to trial within a year of arrest. The scale and complexity of this case makes this challenging,” Mander said.

Didar Hossain, whose uncle and friends were killed in the attack, was disappointed the justice system was taking so long to deal with the case.

“It should be finished in six months, that would be good for us. We are not happy,” he said.

Tarrant was remanded in custody to appear for a case review hearing to be held on 15 August.

Mander barred news outlets from taking photographs or video of Tarrant’s latest court appearance, although he said images from an earlier hearing could be used.

He also lifted suppression orders on the names of those who were wounded in the attacks, except for those aged under 18.

The killings badly rattled normally peaceful New Zealand, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earning international acclaim for her compassionate response towards the country’s small, tight-knit Muslim community.

Her government tightened gun laws and set about reviewing laws dealing with hate speech, as well as spearheading global efforts to ensure social media giants do more to combat online extremism.

© – AFP 2019

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