Christchurch mosque attacks: Gunman pleads guilty to murder, attempted murder and terrorism | Stuff.co.nz

The man accused of the Christchurch mosque attacks has entered shock guilty pleas, bringing relief to survivors and victims’ families.

Amid extraordinary coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Brenton Tarrant, 29, appeared via video-link in the High Court at Christchurch on Thursday morning and admitted 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and a charge of engaging in a terrorist act.

He’d previously pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was scheduled to stand trial on June 2.

GEORGE HEARD/STUFF
Fifty-one people died as a result of the March 15, 2019 attack.

Tarrant, who wore a grey prisoner sweater, was largely silent and emotionless throughout the hearing. He sat alone in a white room with a grey door at Auckland Prison, Paremoremo, where he’s held in maximum security.

The terrorist’s lawyers, Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson, appeared via video-link from another court room.

Brenton Tarrant pleads guilty to murder, attempted murder and terrorism via AVL in the Christchurch High Court.

The names of all 51 people killed were read to Tarrant, before he was asked how he pleaded to the murder charges.

He replied: “Yes, guilty.”

The same process was followed for the attempted murder charges.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFF
Terrorist Brenton Tarrant pictured at his first court appearance, the day after the mosque shootings.

Justice Cameron Mander remanded Tarrant in custody, but has not yet set a date for sentencing, when the summary of facts would be made public.

Few people knew of the special hearing, which was only scheduled late Wednesday, on the eve of an unprecedented nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Six New Zealand journalists attended. Also in court were the imams from both targeted mosques. An-nur (Al Noor) imam Gamal Fouda was visibly upset as the guilty pleas were entered.

JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF
Mustafa Boztas still has a fragment of a bullet inside him.

The hearing concluded at 10.30am, but the judge suppressed the outcome for an hour to allow victims, who were unaware of the hearing, to be notified.

The decision to hold the hearing amid the national state of emergency was not made lightly.

Earlier in the week Tarrant indicated to counsel that he might change his pleas. A formal request was made on Wednesday that the matter be brought before the court.

DAVID WALKER/STUFF
Omar Abdel-Ghany, whose father Ahmed Gamal Eldin Abdel-Ghany was killed at Masjid An-Nur.

Mander said both the Crown and defence asked to have the hearing expedited, despite the severe health restrictions.

The courts were considered an essential public service that was able to deal with “priority proceedings without compromising people’s health”.

The judge said he felt the court had the capacity to safely hear the matter by limiting the number of people in court. In total, 17 people were present.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reflects on the last year following the Christchurch mosque shootings.

It was regrettable the Covid-19 restrictions prevented victims from attending, he said, but the imams had been asked to be present to bear witness to the proceedings.

“It was my assessment that taking the defendant’s pleas at this time was the appropriate course in the circumstances,” Mander said.

“The entry of guilty pleas represents a very significant step towards bringing finality to this criminal proceeding, and I considered the need to take the opportunity to progress the matter was particularly acute coming as it has at a time when the risk of further delay as a result of Covid-19 was looming as realistic possibility.”

Mander said the defendant would not be sentenced before the court returned to normal operations.

The defendant had been remanded to a nominal date of May 1. It was hoped a sentencing date would be confirmed in the interim.

“It is fully anticipated that all who wish to attend court for the sentencing hearing will be able to do so in person.”  

On March 15 last year, Tarrant drove from his Dunedin home to Christchurch with an arsenal of guns and ammunition he’d amassed since moving from Australia to New Zealand in 2017.

The white supremacist entered Masjid An-nur (also known as the Al Noor Mosque) on Deans Ave as Friday prayers were beginning, about 1.40pm, and opened fire – killing and wounding dozens of people.

He then drove across town to the Linwood Mosque where he continued his shooting spree.

Tarrant was arrested a short time later after his car, a gold Subaru Outback, was rammed off the road by two police officers on Brougham St as he tried to make his way to a third target, though to be a mosque in Ashburton, where he planned to carry out another attack.

When police searched the vehicle they found several guns and petrol bombs.

NZ’S WORST MASS SHOOTING

In total, 51 people were killed in the terrorist attack, the worst mass shooting by an individual in New Zealand history.

Tarrant was the first person to be charged under NZ’s Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

Omar Abdel-Ghany, whose father Ahmed Gamal Eldin Abdel-Ghany was killed at Masjid An-Nur, said he could not understand what caused Tarrant to change his plea.

“I’m both shocked and relieved. Shocked at the sudden change in plea, relieved that my family and I, along with other victims won’t have to relive it all through the courts.”

Muslim Association of Canterbury spokesman Tony Green said his immediate reaction was one of enormous relief and great gratitude.

“I think the victims will feel a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders. Our position has always been to let justice take its course, but a trial would have put a lot of pressure on our families. If you look at the anguish caused by the trial of Grace Millane’s killer you can see how bad it would be for 51 families.”

Mustafa Boztas, who lay on the ground inside the Masjid An-nur with a bullet in his leg, pretending to be dead, said from Turkey he always knew Tarrant would be found guilty. 

“I feel he basically played with our minds and emotionally upset us more for no reason.”

Boztas said he would have stayed in the country instead of going overseas if he’d known Tarrant was going to plead guilty. 

“While it can’t undo the damage it has brought upon our community and country, it gives me hope that this help bring not only justice but some closure to those touched by this event.

“To the families, I hope this brings you peace, and a sense that love can conquer hate. While this closes the criminal proceedings for the shootings, please know there is still a long way to go in recovery for some of us, so thank you for your continued support.”

Yasir Amin, whose father 67-year-old Muhammad Amin Nasir was shot in the back by the gunman shooting from his car, said the guilty pleas were good news.

“It’s good to avoid a trial because we would be reminded of everything, every day of the six week trial. We’ve avoided that mental torture and we’re not in a situation where the outcome is not 100 per cent sure.”

Nasir was to undergo another operation on Monday but the operation was postponed due to Covid-19 measures. He had spent two months in hospital after the shootings and had another 20-day stay in December.

“He is now doing well. He goes for walks and eats well.”

Just about every organ in his father’s body except his heart had been damaged by the shotgun pellets, Amin said.

Nasir was shot about 200 metres from the mosque on Deans Ave. The gunman drove past Amin and his father, who were walking to the mosque along the footpath, when he aimed a shotgun at them from his car. Both ran for their lives but Nasir was shot. Their plight was captured by a motel CCTV camera. 

‘HE’S GOT TO PAY THE TIME’

Tarrant’s grandmother, Marie Fitzgerald, had no idea about the plea until called by Stuff.

“I feel sorry he did the crime, but he’s got to pay the time now.”

She declined to comment further.

Victim Support chief executive Kevin Tso said support was ongoing for hundreds of victims who still need help coping with the trauma of the event and rebuilding their lives.

“We’re pleased victims no longer have to face the trauma of the trial.”

The victims had shown remarkable courage and resilience in the face of a heart-breaking, shocking and senseless tragedy, Tso said.

“They have our utmost respect and promise that we will be here for them for as long as they need us.”

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the pleas were a “significant milestone in respect of one of our darkest days”.

“I want to acknowledge the victims, their families and the community of Christchurch – the many lives that were changed forever. They have inspired all of us to be a kind and more tolerant community.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it would provide some relief to the many people whose lives were “shattered” on March 15.

“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,” she said.

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Worshippers at the Al Noor mosque photographed in terror threat | Stuff.co.nz

Worshippers at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch were photographed in an apparent terror threat, two weeks before the first anniversary of the March 15 attack in which 51 worshippers were gunned down. 

The threat was issued on Sunday night on an encrypted messaging app, accompanied by a photo of a masked man sitting in a car outside the mosque. 

A police spokeswoman has confirmed an investigation into the threat is underway. 

Christchurch’s Al Noor was one of two mosques targeted in a racially motivated mass-shooting on March 15, 2019. The alleged terrorist, an Australian national, awaits a trial due to begin in June. 

Police and St John staff outside the Al-Noor mosque after the March 15, 2019 terror attack. (file photo)

Security Intelligence Service director Rebecca Kitteridge last month warned that some Kiwis have been inspired by the March 15 terror attack, and monitoring such people had been difficult.

The threat and accompanying photo was posted anonymously to more than 2000 followers on a messaging channel on the encrypted communication app Telegram.

Do you know more? Email thomas.manch@stuff.co.nz

The image shows a man wearing dark sunglasses and a balaclava printed with an image of a human skull. Through a car window the front of the Al Noor mosque can be seen. 

In the background, four people are visible at the entrance of the mosque. 

The message attached, written in both English and Russian, implies the people at the “same mosque” would be greeting each other for the “last time”. A gun emoji, or symbol, is also used in the message. 

The image was posted on a messaging channel dedicated to celebrating the March 15 terror attack. 

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF
Islamic Women’s Council national co-ordinator Anjum Rahman said police were already conducting enquiries into the threat.

Police were aware of the threat and enquiries were ongoing, a spokeswoman said.

Such threats to the community were taken “extremely seriously”. The spokeswoman declined to answer questions about security arrangements for the anniversary of the March 15 terror attacks. 

An SIS spokesman declined to comment on the specific threat.  

Islamic Women’s Council national co-ordinator Anjum Rahman​ said she was told of the threat early on Monday morning, and notified both mosque leaders and senior police officers. 

“[The police] were already aware and were looking into that threat,” she said. 

“There have been threats, more oblique threats, to other mosques in the last six to eight months or so. We know there is ongoing activity, I would just say the public should be vigilant and report anything that they see as suspicious.”

She said it would be helpful to have a visible police presence at the mosques as the anniversary of the attack approached.

Al Noor imam Gamal Fouda has been contacted for comment. 

In February, Kitteridge said New Zealand’s spy agencies were investigating some 30 to 50 people for a potential terror risk at any one time. 

She said it was challenging to monitor such people as they “tend to live in encrypted chat rooms” — such as Telegram. 

Kitteridge would not say if any specific terror plans had been intercepted.

Messages on the Telegram app first alerted the public to the arrest of a 27-year-old soldier connected to far-Right groups, in November 2019. 

The soldier now awaits a military trial, facing charges of accessing a computer system for a dishonest purpose and for disclosing information that prejudiced the security or defence of New Zealand. 

Authorities across western nations continue to grapple with the terror threat posed by adherents to far-Right and white supremacist ideologies. 

The director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Mike Burgess, last week told reporters that small cells of such extremists posed a growing and enduring threat.

Days earlier, in the United States, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security increased the terror threat level regarding homegrown white supremacists to “high”. 

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Whakaari/White Island: Official death toll rises to 17 | Stuff.co.nz

The official death toll from the Whakaari/White Island eruption has risen to 17 after a victim died in hospital on Sunday.

Deputy Commissioner John Tims confirmed the death on Monday morning.

He said the person died while in Middlemore Hospital on Sunday night, with police being advised shortly before 11pm.

The person’s death brings the official number of deceased to 17. Of the deaths, 16 died in New Zealand and one in Australia.

Whakaari/White Island erupted at 2.11pm on December 9.

The official toll, from the December 9 eruption, does not include two people still missing, presumed dead, in the waters around the island.

They are Kiwi tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman, 40, and Australian teenager Winona Langford, 17.

Marshall-Inman was farewelled in a memorial in Whakatāne on Friday where he was remembered as a “superman”, a “hero” and, now, a “guardian of Whakaari”.

The search for the two missing was scaled back late last week when Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement admitted they’d so far been unsuccessful in their search.

The search was now being handled by Bay of Plenty police.

District commander Superintendent Andy McGregor said an extensive aerial search for further victims of the Whakaari/White Island eruption between the island and the mainland was conducted by Coastguard and police over the weekend.

No further items of significance were located, he said in a statement on Monday.

Police will review the search area to date and make a decision on further search activity, he said.

In a press conference on Thursday Clement described how much it hurt his staff that they hadn’t been able to return them.

COMPOSITE: SUPPLIED
The official toll does not include Winona Langford and Hayden Marshall-Inman who are still missing, presumed dead, in the waters around the island.

They are Kiwi tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman, 40, and Australian tennager Winona Langford, 17.

“It hurts us and it hurts our people,” he said.

He also revealed that police divers at one stage were “within metres” of recovering Marshall-Inman’s body when it was believed to have been sighted in the water near Whakaari’s jetty on December 11.

“The reality was the conditions of the ocean meant they could not get close,” Clement said.

“The people on that day have thought long and hard about that. It’s what they come here to do. They’re disappointed. They backed themselves to retrieve a body and they missed out.”

Last week, Middlemore Hospital announced that more than 600 elective surgeries were set to be delayed as they dealt with the eruption’s aftermath.

WHAKATANE BEACON
Hayden Marshall-Inman’s brother, Mark Inman, spoke during Friday’s memorial.

In the first week following the eruption, the National Burns Service – hosted by south Auckland’s Middlemore, but including centres at Waikato, Hutt Valley and Christchurch hospitals – saw more burns than it typically would in a year.

On Friday John Cartwright, incident controller of Counties Manukau DHB’s incident management team, said the extent of burns the Whakaari patients experienced required many operating theatre hours, on multiple days, by large surgical and anaesthetic teams.

The nature of the burns suffered was complicated by the gasses and chemicals present in the eruption. That meant surgeries had to be carried out more rapidly than was the case for “thermal only” burns.

Waikato Hospital took in the largest load of patients, eight critically injured, on the evening of the disaster.

Last week trauma director Grant Christey said it appeared as masks protected the lungs of people caught in the eruption.

“We thought there would be a lot more lung injuries, as well, from inhalation,” Christey said.

“What we learned later, from the people who went out there, was most of [the tourists] had gas masks on,” he said. They put their gas masks firmly on their faces and closed their eyes and tried to get through it.”

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Cello? Yes, I am in a once-in-a-lifetime concert with my phone on | Stuff.co.nz

person

OPINION: I thoroughly enjoyed the Yo-Yo Ma concert at the Christchurch Town Hall on Tuesday night.

What the excellent review on Stuff on Wednesday missed, though, is the fact that phones rang throughout the concert.

I’m not talking one phone, I’m talking enough that I lost count.

It was embarrassing.

There was even a woman whose phone rang multiple times and instead of switching it to silent, she just turned it off each time and stuffed it back in her handbag.

Ma, the consummate professional, didn’t miss a beat. I suppose it’s part of performing these days. But how distracting it must be to be up on stage playing six Bach cello suites from memory and someone’s phone is playing a polyphonic version of the catchy 90s hit Horny.

Jason Bell
Yo-Yo Ma was the consummate professional in Tuesday night’s concert at the Christchurch Town Hall, despite the incessant ringing of phones, Johnny Moore writes.

Six suites, phrased just so, and all from memory. I repeat this fact because I have such a poor memory that I’ve already forgotten I wrote this in the previous paragraph.

And it wasn’t just the phone calls that distracted people. Some people seemed unable to tear themselves away from their phones for five minutes in order to enjoy the performance.

You could see them in the crowd, faces ghoulishly illuminated as they subbed out from the experience they were part of and subbed in to scrolling and swiping.

A woman in front of me spent the entire show on her phone. I could see what she was looking at because she wasn’t just distracting herself.

Do you know what she needed to see?

Facebook for about a second and a half, instagram for 20 seconds, Stuff, Snapchat… it seemed that opening the app was giving her a dopamine hit but once she was there she needed another and all that could achieve that was opening another stupid app.

I see it at Yo-Yo Ma, I see it in the streets and I see it most disturbingly when people are driving.

We are completely and utterly hooked on these devices and it’s becoming normal.

A trailer of The Music of Strangers, a documentary released in 2015 about Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.

Please don’t see this as some self-righteous position. I am just another fallible human and I too find myself reaching for my phone like an automaton. I’m just trying my best to acknowledge this urge.

Because just like y’all, I am essentially a baboon and while we like to think we’re agents of free will, really people much cleverer than the majority of us have worked out how to trigger our monkey brains.

We’ve outsourced our brains to the cloud and I worry we’re paying top dollar to become drones.

Phones are electronic leashes and we are signing up for the role of digital slaves.

Whatever happened to being mind-numbingly bored? Now there’s an old person question.

Maybe I need to go back to church if I want to experience that feeling again? Or is everyone in church messing about on their phones too?

And is being mind-numbingly bored a better state than being controlled by digital overlords on the internet selling us crap we didn’t even know we wanted?

I dunno. But the least we can do when we spend big bucks on a ticket to see a genius perform a once-in-a-lifetime show is turn our phones on silent, sub out of the ‘net for a few hours and try to enjoy the show.

I think the little girl in the front row had the right idea, an idea I used to try when as a child I had to endure church: have a snooze.

At least it’s more polite than ruining the show for others who came to see a master in full control of his craft.

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