On March 15, 2019, a terrorist attack took place in Christchurch, New Zealand with two consecutive mass shootings at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center during the Friday prayer. The attack was carried out by a single gunman who was identified as Brenton Tarrant.
The gunman faced his surviving victims and relatives of the deceased in a courtroom on Monday as harrowing new details of the killing rampage emerged. He sat impassively in the dock, his head often bowed, as details of his crimes were read out. He glanced occasionally around the courtroom but showed little reaction as survivors relived the horror.
He also planned to burn down the mosques, wanting to "inflict as many fatalities as possible".
“The gunman and I looked into each other’s eyes. . . . I was shot nine times,” said Temel Atacocugu, looking at Tarrant as he recounted the carnage at the Al Noor Mosque.
“I laid under bodies in the mosque, thinking I was going to die,” he said. “I tried to lie as still as possible when the gunman came back a second time. I could feel the blood and brains of the person above me running down my face and neck. I couldn’t move or make a sound, as the gunman would have executed me.”
Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old man from Grafton, New South Wales, Australia, a white supremacist and part of the alt-right, as media reports have described him. He had live-streamed the first shooting on Facebook, and prior to the attack, he had published an online manifesto. Both the video and manifesto were subsequently banned in New Zealand. After police investigation, he was charged with 51 murders, 40 attempted murders, and engaging in a terrorist act. He had carried six weapons with him for the assault, including rifles and semiautomatic shotguns. The youngest victim of his rampage was 3 years old. He initially pleaded not guilty to all charges, with the trial expected to start on 2 June 2020. On 26 March 2020, he changed his plea to guilty on all charges and was convicted.
Why did he commit these attacks?
The attack was linked to an increase in white supremacy and alt-right extremism globally observed since about 2015. Politicians and world leaders condemned it, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described it as "one of New Zealand's darkest days". The government established a royal commission of inquiry into its security agencies in the wake of the shootings, which was the deadliest in modern New Zealand history.
Tarrant’s interview with police after his arrest in which he described his actions as terrorist attacks motivated by his ideological beliefs. Hawes said Tarrant told investigators that he wished he had killed more people and that he intended to use incendiary devices found in his car to burn down the mosques following the massacre.
Less than a month after the shootings, New Zealand's parliament voted by 119 to 1 on reforms banning military-style semi-automatic weapons as well as parts that could be used to build prohibited firearms.