The New Zealand man accused of massacring Muslim worshipers in the city of Christchurch in March pleaded not guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and engaging in a terrorist act. The 28-year-old Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, is an avowed white supremacist who emailed out a racist manifesto minutes before he opened fire with an assault rifle at two mosques, live-streaming his massacre on Facebook.
He live streamed 17 minutes of video which included footage of himself inside the first mosque, going room-to-room, victim to victim, shooting the wounded from close range as they struggled to crawl away and indiscriminately firing into piles of bodies. In the 6 minutes Tarrant was inside, forty-one people were killed at the Al Noor Mosque. The live streamed footage also showed the gunman casually talking and laughing as he walked out of the mosque where he shot at people near the area before driving away at high speed, heading for the Linwood Islamic Centre, about 3 miles away. Another 7 people were killed at the Linwood Mosque, an eighth victim later died in the hospital. Tarrant was apprehended as he fled the Linwood Mosque when two police officers ran his car off the road.
According to his manifesto, he started planning a revenge attack about two years prior to the attack and chose his targets three months in advance. His manifesto expressed several anti-immigrant sentiments including hate speech against migrants, white supremacist rhetoric, and calls for non-European immigrants such as Roma, Indians, Turkish people, Semitic people and others allegedly “invading his land” to be removed. He described himself as an ethno-nationalist and referred to revenge for European civilians who were casualties in Islamic terrorist attacks within Europe as motivation for his attack. He repeatedly mentioned revenge for Ebba Åkerlund, a victim in the 2017 Stockholm truck attack.
Tarrant was judged fit to stand trial after an assessment of his mental state. His pleas of not guilty raise the prospect of a lengthy trial that could give him a platform to air the white supremacist views that allegedly motivated the attack. Tarrant’s trial has been set for May of 2020. He was not in court in person in Christchurch; instead he appeared via a video link from a maximum-security prison where he’s being held in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. New Zealand abolished the death penalty in 1989 and has not executed anyone since 1957. If found guilty, Tarrant faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Eighty survivors and family members of victims watched the proceedings. After the hearing, Abdul Aziz, a survivor of the attack said “He’s a coward and he will lose.” Aziz was at Linwood Mosque during the shootings and has been hailed a hero after confronting the gunmen-ultimately stopping him from claiming as many lives at the second mosque as he did at the first. After hearing shots outside, Aziz ran outside and grabbed the first thing he could find, a credit card machine, which he threw at the gunmen. The gunmen shot at him but they played cat and mouse between cars. Then Aziz grabbed a gun that had been discarded by the attacker tried to fire at Tarrant but the gun was empty. As Tarrant ran back to his car Aziz threw the gun at his car, shattering his windshield. Tarrant yelled that he was going to kill them all but instead drove off and was apprehended by police minutes later.