Christchurch New Zealand shooting suspect pleads not guilty

Brenton Tarrant on Friday entered not-guilty pleas to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one terrorism charge at the Christchurch High Court in relation to the March 15 massacre. 

In an attack broadcast live on Facebook, a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch on March 15. It was New Zealand’s worst peacetime mass shooting and led to substantial changes in the country’s gun laws.

Read more: Thousands show up to Christchurch vigil to shun racism

Fit for trial

Mental health assessments found Tarrant 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 issued shortly after the hearing.

The 28-year-old Australian appeared via video link from a small room at the maximum security prison in Auckland where he’s being held. His link had been muted, and he did not try to speak.

  • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (Getty Images/AFP/M. Melville)

    New Zealand holds memorial for mosque attack victims

    Call for global action

    At Friday’s memorial in a Christchurch park, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called on her country to “be the nation that discovers the cure” to the irrational hate and fear thought to be behind the March 15 mosque attacks. But she freely admitted that New Zealand itself was not immune to such “viruses.” She has won praise from around the world for the way she has dealt with the tragedy.

  • People sitting in the park (Getty Images/AFP/STR)

    New Zealand holds memorial for mosque attack victims

    A nation mourns

    Thousands gathered for the memorial service at North Hagley Park. New Zealand has seen many outpourings of grief and condemnation after the attack, and its leaders have taken immediate action to tighten the country’s previously lax gun laws. Military-style semi-automatic and automatic firearms like those used in the March 15 attack are to be banned from April 11.

  • Yusuf Islam (picture-alliance/Zuma Press/P.J. Heller)

    New Zealand holds memorial for mosque attack victims

    Singing for peace and harmony

    Among those performing at the Christchurch ceremony was Yusuf Islam, also known as Cat Stevens. Islam, himself a Muslim convert, performed his song “Peace Train.” “Our hearts go out to the families of those whose lives were snatched away in that evil carnage while they were worshipping at the mosque two weeks ago,” he said before his performance.

  • Man crying (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Baker)

    New Zealand holds memorial for mosque attack victims

    National grief

    The shootings by the suspected Australian gunman also left many people injured. Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel called the atrocity “an attack on us all.” But, she said, in the end a deed aimed at dividing people had “united us” instead. Services were also held in several other New Zealand cities.

  • Crowd in the Christchurch park (picture-alliance/AP/M. Baker)

    New Zealand holds memorial for mosque attack victims

    Speaking of forgiveness

    The service in Christchurch was also attended by numerous dignitaries, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Among those who spoke was Farid Ahmed, the husband of Husna Ahmed, one of those who died in the attack in the Al Noor mosque. He told the crowd he had forgiven the shooter because of his beliefs. “I don’t want to have a heart that is boiling like a volcano,” Ahmed said.

    Author: Timothy Jones

Read more: Facebook to tighten livestream access after Christchurch attacks

Wearing a gray sweatshirt, Tarrant, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, smirked as his lawyer entered the pleas but otherwise showed little emotion. 

Six weeks set for trial

In the March 15 attacks, 42 people were killed at the Al Noor mosque and seven were killed at the Linwood mosque during Friday prayers. Two more died later at the Christchurch Hospital.

Some 80 survivors and relatives of those killed were in the courtroom while another 60 watched proceedings on a video feed from a nearby room.

Mander scheduled a six-week trial beginning next May. Tarrant will be remanded in custody until August 16, when a case review is scheduled.

Mander barred news outlets from taking photographs or video of Tarrant’s appearance on Friday.

sms/jm (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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