Suspect in New Zealand mosque attacks to face full sweep of charges

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Vincent Yu | AP Flowers lay at a memorial near the Masjid Al Noor mosque for victims in March 15 shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019.
FILE - In this March 16, 2019, file photo, flowers lay at a memorial near the Masjid Al Noor mosque for victims in March 15 shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. New Zealanders are debating the limits of free speech after their chief censor banned a 74-page manifesto written by a man accused of massacring 50 people at two mosques. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

Emanuel Stoakes, The Washington Post • April 4, 2019 10:05 am

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — The alleged perpetrator of the back-to-back mosque massacres in New Zealand was set to appear via video-link from prison to face a full sweep of charges linked to the attacks that claimed 50 lives and wounded dozens of people.

The suspect, Brenton Tarrant, 28, is expected to be charged with 50 counts of murder and 39 counts of attempted murder at the Friday hearing at Christchurch High Court. Officials have indicated that further charges were possible from the twin attacks March 15 in Christchurch, New Zealand’s third-largest city.

This will be the second court appearance for the suspect, an Australian citizen, who was arrested on the day of the attacks. He was initially charged with one representative count of murder.

During that hearing, he made a hand gesture commonly used by white supremacist groups. He was remanded without a plea.

On Thursday, police announced a new set of charges against the suspect that includes the murder and attempted murder counts.

He will not be obligated to enter a plea during the appearance. Police and intelligence services across several countries have launched one of the largest investigations in the country’s history, which including a close look at the suspect’s extensive travels that included visits to historic site of 19 battles between Christians and Muslims.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has described the events as “our darkest of days” and characterized the assaults as acts of terrorism.

If convicted, the suspect faces the prospect of life imprisonment without parole, and confirmation that he has committed among the deadliest white-nationalist inspired mass murder in recent years. He intends to represent himself at the upcoming trial. Prosecutors have been debating whether to primarily pursue murder or terrorism charges.

Friday’s hearing will reveal the date on which the suspect is next required to appear before a judge and may include an announcement of when the trial will commence.

The suspect’s second hearing is expected to be witnessed in person by Yama Nabi, son of Hajji Daoud Nabi, who was killed in the attack. Two of the deceased’s children had attempted to attend the first hearing on the day immediately after the incident but were not allowed to enter by police, citing security concerns.

The court proceedings take place against the backdrop of an intensifying national debate about tightening gun regulations.

On March 21, two weapon groups were reclassified as military style semiautomatics. A new bill proposing to ban such firearms and other weapons may pass into law as soon as next week.

An expedited select committee process has prompted complaints by groups and individuals that oppose the changes, who say that the sped-up procedure has limited the room for a full debate on the issue. They were given just one day to make oral submissions to the committee.

Opponents include David Tipple, owner of Gun City, New Zealand’s biggest weapons retailer, who has admitted that his company sold firearms and ammunition to the accused shooter.

“It is a bad law and it will result in serious injustices,” he told the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee in Wellington on Thursday.

The government has said that a buyback scheme for firearms prohibited under the new legislation will compensate owners at an estimated total cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

However, Policing Minister Stuart Nash said that owners would not be compensated for parts and dealers will be excluded from the scheme.

There continues to be an increased, and visibly armed, police presence in Christchurch.