Christchurch mosque attacker Brenton Tarrant changes plea to guilty, to be sentenced for 51 murders
The Australian man accused of murdering 51 people in the terror attacks on two Christchurch mosques last year has admitted he carried out the killings.
Brenton Tarrant, 29, changed his plea from not guilty to guilty on all charges in an appearance by video link in the High Court at Christchurch this morning.
As well as the 51 murder charges, he also pleaded guilty to 40 charges of attempted murder, and a terrorism charge.
Tarrant’s trial, which had been set down for June, will now not take place.
The date for his sentencing is yet to be set. New Zealand police say it will only take place when it is possible for all victims who want to attend to do so.
Thursday’s small hearing was held at short notice, on Tarrant’s request.
The imams of the two mosques attacked were present, but because of coronavirus restrictions, they were among only 17 people allowed in the courtroom.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met with members of the Muslim community after the mosque attacks.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a few brief comments following Tarrant’s admissions.
“The guilty plea today will provide some relief to the many people whose lives were shattered by what happened on March 15 (2019),” she said.
“These guilty pleas and conviction bring accountability for what happened and also save the families who lost loved ones, those who were injured, and other witnesses, the ordeal of a trial.
“I can’t make any further comment given that sentencing is yet to happen.”
Tarrant has been in custody since was he arrested on the day of the attack.
He stormed the mosques during Friday prayers, armed with several high-powered weapons, and live-streamed the attack online in what is the single-worst terrorist attack carried out by an Australian.
The video showed Tarrant entering a mosque and opening fire on dozens of people, before fleeing in a vehicle.
He continued to fire his automatic weapon out of the car’s window.
At the time, authorities urged people not to share or watch the video, and undertook extensive efforts to remove it from the internet.
It was initially viewed 4,000 times before being taken off Facebook.
New Zealand’s gun laws were changed following the attacks, after it was revealed Tarrant had a gun licence that allowed him to legally obtain weapons.
The country’s national security threat level was also raised to high, for the first time.
During earlier hearings, many of which were procedural, family and friends of the victims had packed the courtroom.
In one of his recent appearances, Tarrant had withdrawn his application to move his trial away from Christchurch to Auckland.
His lawyer declined to answer questions on why his client decided to withdraw the application.
A royal commission was also established to examine what government agencies knew about Tarrant in the lead-up to the attacks, what actions were taken, what could have been done to prevent the atrocity and what could be done to prevent future attacks.
As the commission was going to dig deeply into some highly classified, national security information, it was held almost exclusively behind closed doors.