Australian arrested over NZ shooting massacre to face 50 murder charges
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The Australian man arrested over New Zealand’s mosques shooting massacre will face a total of 50 murder charges and 39 attempted murder charges when he appears in court on Friday, police said.
Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with one murder the day after the attack on two mosques in Christchurch on March 15 and was remanded without a plea.
Fifty people were killed and dozens wounded as they attended Friday prayers by a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons. The gunman broadcast his attack live on Facebook.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the massacre, the worst mass shooting by a lone gunman in New Zealand, as a “terrorist attack” and some legal experts thought it could result in charges under New Zealand’s terrorism laws.
Tarrant is due to appear in Christchurch’s High Court through a video link at 1000 local time (21000 GMT) on Friday.
A High Court judge said in court minutes this week that the appearance would largely be procedural and that Tarrant would not be required to enter a plea to the charges he faced.
“The principal purpose of the call on 5 April will be to ascertain the defendant’s position regarding legal representation and to receive information from the Crown regarding certain procedural steps and when it is envisaged those steps will be completed,” said Judge Cameron Mander.
Police said on Thursday that other charges are still under consideration.
NZ PM announces royal commission inquiry into shooting massacre
Earlier, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a royal commission, a powerful form of public inquiry, into the events leading up to a March 15 shooting massacre on two mosques in Christchurch that killed 50 people.
“It is important that no stone is left unturned to get to the bottom of how this act of terrorism occurred and what, if any, opportunities we had to stop it,” Ardern told reporters at Parliament House in the capital, Wellington.
A suspected white supremacist has been charged with one count of murder over the Christchurch shootings and will next appear in court on April 5. Ardern has said the man had not been on any watch lists in New Zealand or Australia.
She said a major focus of the inquiry would be whether security agencies focused their attention on the right issues and whether there were any clues that were missed.
It would also include the role of social media and the suspect’s ability to obtain a weapon, Ardern said.
The precise terms of reference for the royal commission have yet to be announced but Ardern’s decision to call such an inquiry was welcomed by members of New Zealand’s Muslim community.
“The announcement of an inquiry is a great call and the right thing to do. I hope that it will be an inclusive inquiry and that an opportunity will be provided to the Muslim community to feed into the terms of reference,” said Guled Mire, a Muslim community advocate.
“It’s important we get this right so we can learn from past mistakes,” he said.