The white supremacist who shot dead 51 people at two New Zealand mosques last year pleaded guilty unexpectedly to all charges yesterday, meaning there would be no trial.
Brenton Tarrant (29) showed no emotion as he appeared via video link from an Auckland prison cell to plead guilty to 51 murders, 40 attempted murders and one charge of terrorism.
He had previously entered not guilty pleas and his trial was due to start in June. No reason was given for his decision and his lawyers could not be reached for comment.
He faces life in jail but a judge could allow him to apply for parole in light of his guilty plea.
The plea was met with mixed emotions but mainly relief by New Zealand's Muslim community, which two weeks ago marked the anniversary of the attacks in Christchurch.
"I feel conflicted," said Aya al-Umari, whose brother Hussein died in the attack on the al-Noor mosque.
Although she had wanted more details about what happened, she said she was relieved not to have to face the trauma of a trial.
Many feared that Tarrant, an Australian, would use the trial as a platform for his white supremacist views, which he had published in a 74-page manifesto online before the massacre.
Because of the coronavirus outbreak, only a handful of people were allowed into the court, including the imams from the two mosques targeted.
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's prime minister, said that there was "a certain sense of relief that the whole nation, but particularly our Muslim community, are being spared from a trial that could have otherwise acted as a platform".
The mosque attacks prompted New Zealand's government to ban assault weapons, implement a buy-back of existing firearms and ramp up surveillance.
The massacre also fuelled questions about whether intelligence and security agencies had been sufficiently rigorous in monitoring far-right or white supremacist networks.
Jamal Green, spokesman for al-Noor mosque, said he did not know in advance about Tarrant's sudden decision to plead guilty. The reaction from the community was "one of relief and great surprise; tears of joy, even," he said.
Graeme Edgeler, a Wellington-based lawyer, noted a guilty plea, however belated, might open the possibility of a sentence with parole.
"In New Zealand, a person pleading guilty is usually entitled to a reduction in their sentence for the guilty plea," he said.
"The offending is so serious, however, that even with a guilty plea, a life-without- parole sentence must still be likely." (© Daily Telegraph, London)