By Francesca Merlo
A sentencing hearing has begun in New Zealand for Brenton Tarrant, the Australian man who killed 51 people and injured 40 more in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019.
29 year-old Tarrant has plead guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 attempted murders and one charge of terrorism. He attacked two mosques in Christchurch on 15 March, 2019, and had plans to target a third. This is the first registered terrorism attack in New Zealand.
Monday’s hearing, which is due to last four days, heard emotional addresses by families of victims to the shooter. Maysoon Salama, whose son Atta Elayyan was killed, was one of these.
Tarrant is facing life in prison, possibly without parole - a sentence never before imposed in New Zealand.
Following the attacks last year, Catholic Bishops around the world sent messages of solidarity to members of the Muslim community in New Zealand. Amongst these came a message from all 5 Catholic Bishops of New Zealand. They wrote:
“We hold you in prayer as we hear the terrible news of violence against Muslims in mosques in Christchurch. We are profoundly aware of the positive relationships we have with Islamic people in this land, and we are particularly horrified that this has happened at a place and time of prayer. We are deeply saddened that people have been killed and injured, and our hearts go out to them, their families and wider community. We wish you to be aware of our solidarity with you in the face of such violence.”
The message concludes, “Peace, Salaam”.
Pope Francis’s closeness
Pope Francis also expressed his closeness to the victims and their families during his Sunday Angelus on 17 March, two days after the fatal attacks.
“In these days, in addition to the pain of wars and conflicts that do not cease to afflict humanity, there have been the victims of the horrible attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. I pray for the dead and injured and their families. I am close to our Muslim brothers and all that community. I renew my invitation for prayer and gestures of peace to combat hatred and violence.”
Crown prosecutor Barnaby Hawes told the court that the gunman had began formulating a plan years earlier, and that his goal was to "inflict as many fatalities as possible".
Tarrant had gathered information about mosques in New Zealand with the aim of targeting them at the time they would be busiest.
In the months before the attack, he travelled to Christchurch and flew a drone over his primary target, the Al Noor mosque.
He also planned to target the Ashburton Mosque in addition to the Al Noor mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre, but was detained while on his way to the third mosque.