Far-right terrorist pleads guilty to the murder of 51 Muslims

24th Apr 2020
Far-right terrorist pleads guilty to the murder of 51 Muslims

(Image Creative Commons)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Brenton Tarrant, the far-right terrorist who massacred scores of Muslims attending Friday prayers, including children and pensioners, last year in New Zealand, pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder March 26.

The 29-year-old Australian white supremacist, who had previously denied the charges and was due to go on trial in June, also admitted the attempted murder of another 40 people in Christchurch, as well as terrorism charge, the first prosecution of its kind in New Zealand.

The gun attacks at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre on March 15, 2019, sent shockwaves around the world.

Tarrant was armed with semi-automatic weapons and broadcasting New Zealand’s worst mass shooting live on Facebook. In the wake of the killings, New Zealand brought in stricter gun laws.

In his now-infamous manifesto titled The Great Replacement, a nod to the “white genocide” conspiracy theories, Tarrant described himself as a “kebab removalist”, in reference to a memo exalting the genocide of Bosnian Muslims that occurred during the Bosnian War.

A representative of the two mosques that were attacked was allowed to attend the hearing to represent the victims and their families.

Judge Justice Cameron Mander said, “It is regrettable that the Covid-19 restrictions that presently applies do not permit victims and their families to travel to be present in the courtroom when the defendant entered his pleas of guilty.”

Justice Mander added, “There is no intention to sentence the defendant before the court returns to its normal operations and at a time when the victims and their families can attend court in person.”

One of the survivors, Farid Ahmed, who lost his wife Husna in the attack on Al Noor Mosque said that many are relieved they did not have to go through the trial, “I have been praying for him, and he has taken the right direction. I am pleased he felt guilty, it is a good start.”

Due to the Covid-19 lockdown, families of mosque attack victims could not hear the guilty pleas in person.

The shootings began when the gunman drove to the Al Noor mosque, entered the building and began shooting.

Speaking on the first anniversary of the massacre, Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said her country had “fundamentally changed” because of the attacks.

She accepted that “much more” needed to be done to prevent radicalisation in her country.

“The challenge for us will be ensuring in our everyday actions, and every opportunity where we see bullying, harassment, racism, discrimination, calling it out as a nation,” she said.

“That is when we’ll show we each individually have a role to play in making sure that New  Zealand has changed fundamentally for the better.”

Although New Zealand’s extraordinary outpouring of compassion for the Muslim community as well Ardern’s leadership has been widely lauded the attack also inspired far-right nationalists and anti-immigration campaigners to be more active both on and offline, according to Muslim leaders, activists and experts.

Days before the first anniversary of the shooting a post appeared on an encrypted messaging app showing a balaclava-clad man outside one of the attacked mosques with a threat and a gun emoji.

The message was the latest in several threats against minorities in New Zealand, evidence of what experts say is an increase in hate crime and Islamophobia since last year’s terror attack.

“The attack certainly emboldened people who want to spread hate,” said Anjum Rahman from the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand.

In a Parliamentary committee meeting chaired by Ardern in February, New Zealand’s spy chief laid down the growing challenge since the attack.

“It (the attack) has given encouragement to some people. It has been inspirational to other people, and so it remains still quite a fluid picture,” New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge told the committee.

“We have got more information about more people who are expressing extremist views than we had before 15 March, and some of those people existed beforehand, and then there is the impact of the attacks themselves afterwards,” she said.

Between 30 and 50 people are being actively investigated by the agency at any given moment for posing a terror threat, a higher number than in previous years.

Kitteridge said between March 15 and the end of June 2019 the spy agency received leads about people who had expressed racist, Nazi, Identitarian, or white supremacist views.

A survey by online safety agency Netsafe in December showed hate speech online increased in New Zealand in the last 12 months, with about 15 per cent of the adult population targeted by online hate.

Sentencing on the 92 charges will take place at a date yet to be set.

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