New Zealand mosque attack suspect charged with murder
16 Mar 2019
A body lies on the footpath outside a mosque in central Christchurch.
Christchurch: A right-wing extremist who filmed himself on a shooting rampage that left 49 mosque-goers dead flashed a white power gesture as he appeared in a New Zealand court Saturday charged with murder.
Australian-born 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant stood in the dock wearing handcuffs and a white prison smock, as the judge read a single murder charge against him. A raft of further charges are expected.
The former fitness instructor and self-professed fascist occasionally turned to look at media present in court during the brief hearing that the public were excluded from for security reasons.
Flanked by armed police he made an upside-down "okay" signal, a symbol used by white power groups across the globe. He did not request bail and was taken into custody until his next court appearance which is scheduled for April 5.
A short distance from the court, 39 people were being treated in hospital for gunshot wounds and other injuries inflicted in the massacre.
The wounded included a two-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, who was in critical condition.
Doctors at Christchurch hospital said they worked through the night in 12 operating theatres to treat the survivors.
The attack on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques has been labelled terrorism by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and is thought to be the deadliest attack directed against Muslims in the West in modern times.
Outside the court, the son of 71-year-old Afghan victim Daoud Nabi demanded justice for his late father, who believed New Zealand to be a "slice of paradise."
"It's outrageous" he said. "It's beyond imagination."
Ardern said the victims came from across the Muslim world, with Turkey, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia among the countries rendering consular assistance.
One Saudi citizen and two Jordanians were among the dead, while five Pakistani citizens were missing.
Ardern, wearing a black headscarf, met with survivors and victims' families Saturday at a college which has become an information centre for those affected by the tragedy.
Sahra Ahmed, a New Zealander of Somali origin, said she was touched by the PM's gesture.
"It means a lot. It is a signal to say -- I am with you," she told AFP.
The attack has prompted an outpouring of grief and deep shock in this usually peaceful and hospitable country, which prides itself on welcoming refugees fleeing violence or persecution.
The last comparable mass shooting in New Zealand was almost three decades ago, and the annual murder rate is usually around 50 people for the entire country.
Although shops were shuttered and many decided to stay at home Saturday, bouquets of flowers piled up at a makeshift memorial near the Al Noor mosque, many accompanied with handwritten letters laden with sadness and disbelief.
"I am so sorry that you were not safe here. Our hearts are breaking for your loss," read one of the notes marked with a string of x-kisses.