Gunman Suddenly Changes Plea in New Zealand Mosque Attacks

Defendant admits to killing 51 people in Christchurch
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 25, 2020 8:42 PM CDT
New Zealand Mosque Gunman Suddenly Changes Plea to Guilty
Brenton Tarrant appears in court last year.   (Mark Mitchell/Pool Photo via AP, File)

The man who committed the worst atrocity in New Zealand's modern history when he slaughtered 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques unexpectedly pleaded guilty to all charges Thursday. The attacks targeting people praying at the mosques a year ago shocked the nation and prompted new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons. It also prompted global changes to social media protocols after the gunman livestreamed his attack on Facebook. The sudden turn in the case, at a hastily arranged court hearing, took survivors and relatives by surprise, and brought relief to people across New Zealand, the AP reports. Many had feared Australian white supremacist Brenton Harrison Tarrant would use his trial as a platform to promote his views. The trial was to begin in June. He previously had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

On Thursday, Tarrant, 29, pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism. He is the first person to be found guilty of terrorism in New Zealand under laws passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US. The change in plea came less than two weeks after New Zealanders commemorated those who died during the attacks on March 15, 2019. "Honestly, I'm still trying to process what just happened," said Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was killed in the attack on the Al Noor mosque. Temel Atacocugu, who survived being shot nine times, said he hoped the judge would impose the harshest punishment in the country's history to help ensure nothing like this would happen again. "I'm happy that he has accepted that he is guilty," Atacocugu said. Sentencing is not scheduled. Tarrant faces life imprisonment.

(Read more New Zealand mosque shootings stories.)

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