New Zealand mosque shooter changes plea to guilty

The shootings last March by self-avowed white supremacist targeted Muslims at Friday prayers. (AFP)
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Updated 26 March 2020

New Zealand mosque shooter changes plea to guilty

  • The guilty plea removes the need for a lengthy trial
  • His lawyers did not provide an explanation for the change of his plea

WELLINGTON: An Australian far-right extremist charged with murdering 51 Muslim worshippers in last year’s mass shooting at two New Zealand mosques unexpectedly flipped his plea to guilty on Thursday.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Muslim community expressed relief at the surprise decision, which removes the need for a lengthy trial that authorities feared would be used to spout neo-Nazi propaganda.
Self-avowed white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, 29, had previously denied 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one of terrorism but reversed his plea in a hurriedly arranged court hearing.
“Yes, guilty,” Tarrant told Christchurch High Court via videolink from Auckland Prison as the charges were read out to him.
Tarrant, wearing a grey top, stared intently at the camera while making his confession.
Neither the former gym instructor from the Australian country town of Grafton nor his lawyers offered any explanation for the change, which makes him New Zealand’s first-ever convicted terrorist.
The South Pacific nation does not have the death penalty but Tarrant faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars.
The terror and murder charges all carry life sentences, setting a minimum non-parole period of 17 years but giving the judge power to imprison without the possibility of release.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the admission of guilt would provide some relief to the many people whose lives were shattered in the attack.
“These guilty pleas and conviction bring accountability for what happened and also save the families who lost loved ones, those who were injured, and other witnesses, the ordeal of a trial,” she said.
Asked how she reacted upon hearing the news, Ardern replied: “I let out a huge sigh of relief.”
Judge Cameron Mander recorded convictions on all charges and said Tarrant would be sentenced at a date yet to be determined.
“The guilty pleas represent a very significant step toward bringing finality to this criminal proceeding,” he said.
The plea came with New Zealand in its first day of a four-week COVID-19 lockdown.
Mander said sentencing would take place “at a time when victims and their families can attend the court in person.”
The judge said advance reporting that Thursday’s hearing was taking place was suppressed in case Tarrant changed his mind at the last minute and maintained his innocence.
Tarrant’s trial had been due to start on June 2 and last some six weeks, with police commissioner Mike Bush saying Thursday’s hearing was arranged after the gunman contacted his lawyers on Tuesday.
“Police appreciate this news will come as a surprise to the victims and the public, some of whom may have wished to be present in the courtroom,” he said in a statement.
Bush said imams from the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, the ones targeted by Tarrant, were among only 17 people allowed in court to hear the revised plea.
New Zealand’s small and tight-knit Muslim community welcomed the fact that they would not have to endure a drawn-out trial raking over painful details of the worst mass shooting in the country’s modern history.
“I have been praying for him and he has taken the right direction,” Farid Ahmed, whose wife Husna was killed, told TVNZ.
“I am pleased he is feeling guilty. It is a good start.”
Tarrant armed himself with an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons and attacked the Al Noor mosque first, before moving on to the Linwood prayer center, livestreaming the killings as he went.
His victims were all Muslim and included children, women and the elderly.
In a rambling manifesto posted online before the killing spree, Tarrant said he had moved to New Zealand with the specific aim of conducting an atrocity against Muslims.
The document said he became radicalized while traveling around Europe, although intelligence agencies have so far failed to find any evidence he was working with right-wing extremist groups.
His actions prompted Ardern, who has vowed never to say the killer’s name, to tighten New Zealand’s gun laws and launch a campaign to curb online extremism.

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Italy extends lockdown until ‘at least’ April 12

Updated 49 min 37 sec ago

Italy extends lockdown until ‘at least’ April 12

  • Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said any easing of containment measures would be done incrementally to ensure Italy does not give up gains it has made
  • Health Minister Roberto Speranza later announced that ‘all containment measures would be extended at least until Easter’ on April 12

ROME: Italy on Monday extended an economically crippling lockdown until “at least” mid-April to stem coronavirus infections that have claimed a world-leading 11,591 lives.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said any easing of containment measures would be done incrementally to ensure Italy does not give up gains it has made against the extraordinary disease.
The near three-week shutdown “had been very tough economically,” Conte told Spain’s El Pais newspaper.
“It cannot last very long,” he said. “We can study ways (of lifting restrictions). But it will have to be done gradually.”
Health Minister Roberto Speranza later announced that “all containment measures would be extended at least until Easter” on April 12.
Business closures and a ban on public gatherings were to have expired on Friday.
Italy was the first Western nation to impose sweeping restrictions to stem a pandemic that has claimed more than 36,000 lives worldwide.
Its own toll grew by 812 on Monday and the number of infections reported by the civil protection service surpassed 100,000.
But fresh evidence also suggested that COVID-19 was spreading more slowly than when the first victim died in Italy on February 21.
The daily rate of new infections dropped to 4.1 percent — a fraction of the 62 percent level registered a month ago.
The number of people suffering from the illness at its epicenter in the northern Lombardy region also dropped for the first time.
And the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 across the nation of 60 million people hit a new high.
“We saw 1,590 people recover in the past 24 hours,” civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters.
“This is the highest number of recoveries recorded since the start of the pandemic.”
Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri said the latest data showed that Italy might see “a drop in the number of people infected within seven to 10 days.”
Italy’s ISS public health institute chief Silvio Brusaferro also felt the infection rate was approaching its peak.
“We are witnessing a flattening of the curve,” Brusaferro told the La Repubblica daily.
“There are no signs of a descent yet, but things are improving.”
Health officials said one of the most encouraging figures was a drop from 25,392 on Sunday to 25,006 on Monday in the number of people in Lombardy testing positive for COVID-19.
The figure had grown continuously for more than a month.
“The picture has improved a lot over the past four days,” Lombardy’s chief medical officer Giulio Gallera said.
The latest data was released nearly three weeks into a national lockdown that has emptied cities and paralyzed most business activity.
Store and restaurant closures were reinforced last week by a shutdown of “non-essential” factories.
Forecasts by several global banks and analysts point to Italian economic output shrinking by seven percent this year.