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New Zealand judge sentences mosque shooter to life in prison, without parole, for 'wicked crimes'

New Zealand judge sentences mosque shooter to life in prison, without parole, for 'wicked crimes'

Brenton Tarrant, the gunman who shot and killed worshippers in the Christchurch mosque attacks, is seen during his sentencing at the High Court in Christchurch, New Zealand on August 26, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/John Kirk-Anderson/Pool)

WELLINGTON: A New Zealand court on Thursday (Aug 27) sentenced a man who killed 51 Muslim worshippers in New Zealand's deadliest shooting to life imprisonment without parole, the first time such a sentence has been handed down in the country.

Brenton Tarrant, a 29-year-old Australian, admitted to 51 charges of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one charge of committing a terrorist act during the 2019 shooting rampage at two Christchurch mosques which he livestreamed on Facebook. 

READ: Daughter of New Zealand mosque victim tells gunman: Consider 'beauty of diversity' while in prison

READ: 'Your hatred is unnecessary': Defiant New Zealand mosque shooting survivors face gunman

High Court Judge Cameron Mander said in Christchurch that a finite term would not be sufficient.

"Your crimes, however, are so wicked that even if you are detained until you die it will not exhaust the requirements of punishment and denunciation," said Mander in handing down the sentence.

"As far as I can discern, you are empty of any empathy for your victims," he said.

Survivors and family members of the 2019 twin mosque shootings greet each other outside the High Court building on the last day of the sentencing hearing on Aug 27, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Sanka Vidanagama)

Prosecutors told the court earlier that Tarrant wanted to instil fear in those he described as invaders and that he carefully planned the attacks to cause maximum carnage.

"Today the legal procedures for this heinous crime has been done. No punishment will bring our loved ones back," said Gamal Fouda, the Imam of Al Noor mosque which was targeted.

"Extremists are all the same. Whether they use religions, nationalism or any other ideology. All extremists, they represent hate. but we are here today. We respect love, compassion, Muslim and non-Muslim people of faith and of no faith."

READ: New Zealand PM says mosque gunman deserves lifetime of 'complete and utter silence'

Tarrant, who represented himself during the hearings but did not make submissions, said through a lawyer in court on Thursday that he did not oppose the prosecution's application for a life without parole sentence.

"The hatred that lies at the heart of your hostility to particular members of the community that you came to this country to murder has no place here - it has no place anywhere," Mander said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was relieved that "that person will never see the light of day".

"The trauma of Mar 15 is not easily healed but today I hope is the last where we have any cause to hear or utter the name of the terrorist behind it. His deserves to be a lifetime of complete and utter silence," she said.

Ardern praised survivors and families of the victims who gave emotionally-charged statements in court this week, calling for Tarrant to be sentenced to life without parole.

"I want to acknowledge the strength of our Muslim community who shared their words in court over the past few days,” she said. "You relived the horrific events of Mar 15 to chronicle what happened that day and the pain it has left behind."

Police snipers keep watch from the High Court building's roof on the last day of the sentencing. (Photo: AFP/Sanka Vidanagama)

"Nothing will take the pain away but I hope you felt the arms of New Zealand around you through this whole process, and I hope you continue to feel that through all the days that follow."

The judge asked Tarrant before handing down the sentence if he had any comment. Tarrant just nodded when asked if he was aware he had the right to make submissons, but he did not speak.

READ: New Zealand mosque gunman unmoved as survivors recount ordeal

READ: 'Poisoned' New Zealand mosque gunman's road to extremism

Before Tarrant, triple-murderer William Bell was serving the longest sentence in New Zealand with a minimum non-parole prison term of 30 years for his 2001 crimes.

Tarrant faced a four-day sentencing in Christchurch with more than 90 witnesses providing harrowing testimony of the horrors inflicted in the country's worst terror attack.

Live reporting from the courtroom was banned, and other restrictions were put in place on what the media could report.​​​​​​​


The court was told Tarrant arrived in New Zealand in 2017 and based himself in Dunedin, 360km south of Christchurch, where he built up a collection of high-powered firearms and purchased more than 7,000 rounds of ammunition.

Two months before the attack, he drove to Christchurch and flew a drone over the Al Noor mosque, filming the grounds and buildings, including entrances and exits, with detailed notes about travelling between mosques.

On Friday, Mar 15, 2019 he left his Dunedin address and drove to Christchurch armed with a range of high-powered weapons on which he had written references to historic battles, figures of the Crusades and more recent terror attacks and symbols.

He had ammunition pre-loaded into magazines, a camera mounted on his helmet to record the attacks and modified petrol containers "to burn down the mosques and said he wished he had done so", said the prosecutor. 

In the minutes leading up to the storming of the al Noor mosque, he sent his radical 74-page manifesto to an extremist website, alerted his family to what he was about to do and sent emails containing threats to attack the mosques to numerous media agencies.

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