By Arab News
Brenton Tarrant, 28, entered no plea when he appeared on Saturday morning in a Christchurch court charged with murder after a terrorist attack on two mosques in the city.
Dressed in a white prison tunic, handcuffed and flanked by two police officers, Tarrant stood passively in the dock. At one point he gazed around at the courtroom, which was packed with media.
The judge had cleared members of the public from the court for safety reasons. Tarrant said nothing, entered no plea to the charge and did not apply to have his name withheld.
He appeared in court a day after the shootings at the Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Masjid mosques. At least 49 people were killed, while dozens more were injured.
Judge Paul Kellar said although Tarrant was facing only one murder charge, it was “reasonable to assume there will be other charges”.
The attack led to an outpouring of grief and shock that a white-supremacist fanatic could carry out a terrorist attack on such a scale in a country widely regarded as one of the world’s most peaceful.
World leaders and religious figures expressed their sorrow at the killing, which targeted women, children and men as they prayed in their place of worship. The shock was exacerbated by the fact Tarrant livestreamed his actions from a camera mounted to his helmet, sparking anger at social media platforms and the length of time it took them to remove the videos.
The attack was the worst ever peacetime mass killing in New Zealand and the country raised its security threat level to the highest.
Police said three people were in custody. “Our investigations are in their early stages and we will be looking closely to build a picture of any of the individuals involved and all of their activities prior to this horrific event,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Saturday promised to reform the country’s gun laws. She said the main perpetrator used five weapons during his rampage, including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns, which he was legally licensed to own.
“I can tell you one thing right now, our gun laws will change,” Ardern told reporters.
The man facing murder charges was an Australian citizen who had spent a lot of time travelling overseas and spent time only sporadically in New Zealand, Ardern said.
None of those arrested had a criminal history or was on any watchlist in New Zealand or Australia.
Among the wounded, two were in a critical condition, including a four-year-old child.
There was a heavy police presence at the hospital where families of the wounded had gathered. Funerals were planned on Saturday for some of the victims, several of whom were born overseas.
A Saudi man, Mohsin Al-Mozaini was among the dead, AlArabiya reported.
King Salman described the attack as a “heinous massacre” that “underlines the responsibility of the international community to confront the rhetoric of hatred and terrorism.”
One man who said he was at the Al Noor mosque told media the gunman burst into the mosque as worshippers were kneeling for prayers.
“He had a big gun…He came and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere,” said the man, Ahmad Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.
Facebook said it had deleted the gunman’s accounts “shortly after the livestream commenced” after being alerted by police. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all said they had taken steps to remove copies of the videos.
Ardern said she had asked authorities to look into whether there was any activity on social media or elsewhere ahead of the attack that should have triggered a response
City on edge
Christchurch is a city of about 400,000 residents, still recovering from a massive earthquake in 2011 that killed 187 people.
A noisy generator raring from a construction site next to the Christchurch Justice Precinct was a stark and irritating reminder of those tragic events, as media and members of the public gathered awaiting Tarrant’s court appearance.
The city is on edge as helicopters are heard overhead and people are advised to stay indoors. It’s a city in crisis mode yet again, just a few years on from the quakes that rattled Christchurch to its core.
Schools, institutions and workplaces went forced into lockdown for three and half hours on Friday afternoon as police hunted the shooters.