Christchurch Terrorist Faces Justice in 4-Day Sentencing Hearing24 Aug 2020
One might be forgiven to think that it has been years since the horrific attacks in two mosques in the city of Christchurch. However, the bloody attacks, which resulted in the mindless killings of 51 Muslims, were only a little over a year ago.
With the memories of the attack still fresh in the minds of the survivors, they faced a new challenge today when they met the far-right-inspired mass-murderer, Brenton Tarrant, on Monday.
The four-day sentencing hearing is expected to deliver a verdict of life in prison without parole – a sentence never imposed in New Zealand before.
Tarrant pleaded guilty in March
The hearing has already been a turbulent one. The Christchurch attacker, a self-professed white supremacist, had pleaded not guilty following his initial arrest.
However, in a surprise development, Tarrant, an Australian who migrated to New Zealand where he perpetrated the country’s bloodiest terror attack in history, changed his plea to guilty. To the relief of many families who lost loved ones in the attack, this decision means that the sentencing can go ahead sooner.
Instead, the first day of the sentencing hearing, which will go on for four days, saw the prosecution present evidence about the massacre. According to the findings of the police, the attacker spent years preparing, including purchasing high-powered firearms. He also researched mosque layouts and flew a drone over al-Noor Mosque. He timed the attack to maximise casualties and plotted the entry and exit points.
In addition to his two targets, the attacker sought to attack a third mosque but was apprehended before that could happen.
“You transgress beyond comprehension; I cannot forgive you.”
The first day of the hearing also saw victims and their families face the attacker in court, reading statements about the way the attack impacted their lives. According to High Court judge Cameron Mander, some 200 victim impact statements were submitted.
The mood among the victims and their families, who faced the attacker for the first time, was understandably sombre, with many of them visibly shaken when the attacker made his first appearance.
Some among the victims and their families sought to offer forgiveness.
Such was the case with Janna Ezat whose son was among those killed.
“I have decided to forgive you, Mr Tarrant, because I don’t have hate, I don’t have revenge,” she told the attacker. “The damage is done. Hussein will never be here.”
The attacker was seen wiping his cheek with one thumb. Ms. Ezat’s daughter told the press that her mother believed the attacker had felt something in that moment.
Others were less lenient with the killer. Maysoon Salama, whose son Atta Elayyan was killed, said that she could not forgive the attacker who murdered 51 people only because they were Muslims.
“You transgress beyond comprehension; I cannot forgive you,” Ms. Salama said.
Among the statements of those who were present during the attack was that of Gamal Fouda, the imam of al-Noor Mosque who was leading prayers when the attacker opened fire on the worshippers.
Describing the attacker as misguided, misled and brainwashed, Fouda said that the Muslim community in Christchurch had not deserved the attacker’s hatred and said New Zealand’s response was the opposite of what he hoped to accomplish.
“The world saw New Zealand as what it was and the terrorist was seen as a criminal.”
Fouda, instead, offered condolences to the attacker’s family who had lost a son to terrorism just as many in Christchurch had lost their family members.
The sentencing hearing is expected to go on for another three days, with the expected conclusion on Thursday when all the survivors and family members of the victims have had an opportunity to address the court.
In order to limit the provocative statements the attacker may make to gain more notoriety, Justice Mander placed restrictions on the press on what can be reported.