The gunman behind New Zealand’s Christchurch mosque shootings sacked his lawyers Monday and opted to represent himself, raising fears he would use a sentencing hearing next month to promote his white-supremacist views.
Australian national Brenton Tarrant will be sentenced on August 24 on 51 murder convictions, 40 of attempted murder and one of terrorism arising from last year’s massacre, the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s modern history. He has pleaded guilty to the charges.
New Zealand shooter will represent himself
At a pre-sentencing hearing on Monday, High Court judge Cameron Mander allowed Tarrant’s lawyers, Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson, to withdraw from proceedings at the request of their client.
However, the judge ordered “standby counsel” to be available next month in case Tarrant — who appeared in the Christchurch court via video link from an Auckland prison — changes his mind.
New Zealand Muslim Association president Ikhlaq Kashkari questioned Tarrant’s motives, saying victims could be re-traumatised if the gunman were allowed to spout far-right rhetoric from the dock.
The Australian fascist Brenton Tarrant played a Serbian nationalist song celebrating the "Butcher of Bosnia" Radovan Karadzic, as he drove to the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he killed 42 people.
"Never forget" means "fight fascism" https://t.co/Wh6psryicZ
— New York City Antifa (@NYCAntifa) July 11, 2020
“My first concern when I read this was ‘Oh my God, what’s this guy up to, is he going to use this as a platform to promote his views and thoughts?’,” he told AFP.
“A lot of people are still going through trauma and this was seen as one of those events that would give them closure. I hope it’s not going to be something that will trigger more pain instead.”
New Zealand shooter ‘wants attention’
In March 2019, Tarrant gunned down Muslim worshippers during Friday prayers at two Christchurch mosques, live-streaming the killings as he went.
His victims included children, women and the elderly.
The former gym instructor unexpectedly reversed his not-guilty plea in March this year, removing the need for a lengthy trial.
The terror and murder charges all carry life sentences, setting a minimum non-parole period of 17 years while also giving the judge power to imprison without the possibility of release. New Zealand does not have the death penalty.
He said: "We will save Hagia Sophia from the minarets.
We come to Constantinople and destroy all mosques and minarets. "
Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 Muslims during Friday prayers in New Zealand, and those with this mentality should know that #HagiaSophia is the #Mosque. https://t.co/OkNk5nfb4x
— Asım Yalçınkaya (@ASIM_YALCINKAYA) July 13, 2020
Survivors and the families of victims will be present during the three-day sentencing hearing and Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand spokeswoman Anjum Rahman said many would not want to hear from Tarrant.
While she did not want to speculate on Tarrant’s motive for representing himself, she said: “He has shown in the past that he likes to get attention and he wants attention.
“I feel this is all part of that mindset.”
What were the al-Noor mosque shootings?
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described it as a terrorist attack and one of New Zealand’s “darkest days”.
A gunman identifying himself as an Australian live-streamed the rampage at Al Noor mosque to Facebook. He had espoused racist, anti-immigrant views.
Police say a man in his late 20s has been arrested and charged with murder.
Two other men and one woman were also detained.
The gunman live-streaming the attack from a head-mounted camera said he was a 28-year-old Australian called Brenton Tarrant. The footage showed him firing at men, women and children from close range inside the Al Noor mosque.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the man as an “extremist, right-wing” terrorist. New Zealand Police Commissioner Bush confirmed that the man had not been known in advance to either New Zealand or Australian security services.
One unnamed survivor told TV New Zealand that he had seen the gunman shoot a man in the chest. The attacker reportedly targeted the men’s prayer room in the mosque, then moved to the women’s room.
“What I did was basically just waiting and praying, God please, let this guy run out of bullets,” the witness said. “He came to this side, he shot this side, he went to another room and went to the ladies’ section and shot them. I just heard one of the ladies has died.”
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk