The man accused of killing 51 people in two mosques in New Zealand has changed his plea to guilty to all charges in a sudden appearance in court via audiovisual link on Thursday.
Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, 29, was due to go on trial later this year on 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one count of engaging in a terrorist attack. He had previously pleaded not-guilty to all charges.
(General view of Christchurch High Court during the hearing of Brenton Harrison Tarrant on March 26, 2020 in Christchurch, New Zealand.)[Getty/Kyodo]
Police said Tarrant indicated he wanted to be brought before the court on Tuesday afternoon. Radio New Zealand said no explanation was given for his decision to change his plea.
On March 15, 2019, Tarrant allegedly stormed the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in central Christchurch during midday prayers and opened fire using high-powered, military-style semi-automatic firearms. The attacks constituted the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand's history and prompted a raft of changes to the country's gun laws.
Imams from the two mosques were present in the courtroom as Tarrant entered his plea. According to the New Zealand Herald newspaper, Imam Gamal Fouda of the Al Noor mosque, where 43 people were killed, wept as the names of all 51 murder victims were read aloud in the court.
Police said in a statement that sentencing will not take place until it is possible for all victims who wish to attend the hearing to do so. However, this could be delayed "for some time" due to the coronavirus epidemic.
"While the sentencing hearing is still pending, today's guilty pleas are a significant milestone in respect of one of our darkest days," Police Commissioner Mike Bush said in a statement.
Tarrant will be kept in custody until May 1, when his sentencing date is reviewed.