National News

Aust Christchurch terrorist pleads guilty


Friends of a missing man grieve outside a refuge centre in Christchurch, Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The Australian man accused of killing 51 worshippers in an attack on two Christchurch mosques last year has changed his plea to guilty.

Brenton Tarrant, who was due to stand trial in June on 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder, and one count of terrorism, admitted carrying out the attacks in a High Court hearing in Christchurch on Thursday morning.

Tarrant, who appeared by videolink from Auckland Prison, was remanded in custody until May 1 by presiding judge Justice Cameron Mander.

Arrangements for the court hearing were made on Tuesday after Tarrant indicated, through his counsel, he wished to be brought before the court.

TVNZ, one of just a handful of media outlets allowed into Thursday's hearing due to New Zealand's COVID-19 lockdown, reported every name of Tarrant's victims was read to him before he entered his guilty plea.

Justice Mander imposed a one-hour embargo on reporting the news to allow for survivors and the families of victims to be informed, before the wider public.

"It is regrettable that the Covid-19 restrictions that presently apply do not permit victims and their families to travel to be present in the courtroom when the defendant entered his pleas of guilty," he said.

Imams from the Al Noor mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre, the two mosques targeted in the shooting, were both in the court.

A sentencing date is yet to be set, with Police Commissioner Mike Bush saying it was likely to be delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as consideration has been given to as many survivors and families of victims attending the sentencing hearing.

"This is New Zealand's largest ever criminal prosecution," Mr Bush said.

"While the sentencing hearing is still pending, today's guilty pleas are a significant milestone in respect of one of our darkest days."

Tarrant is expected to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Tarrant, who describes himself as a far-right fascist, came to his radical views from conversations in dark corners on the internet, consolidated on trips to Europe.

He grew up in the northern New South Wales town of Grafton, moving to New Zealand in 2017 and settling in the South Island town of Dunedin.

Tarrant carried out his attacks on March 15 last year, carrying camera equipment that allowed him to live-stream his horrific crimes.

He was apprehended by police after fleeing Linwood Islamic Centre.

Tarrant also published a manifesto detailing his hateful views.

Both the live-stream and the manifesto are illegal to obtain or read in New Zealand.

Christchurch mourned the first anniversary of the event earlier this month, though a national remembrance service was cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions.

© AAP 2020