A sentencing hearing has begun for the Australian man who carried out the mosque attacks in the New Zealand city of Christchurch in March 2019. Brenton Tarrant has admitted killing 51 worshippers and injuring dozens more. In court Monday, the self-confessed white supremacist has come face-to-face with relatives of some of his victims.
A year after his deadly rampage, Brenton Tarrant pleaded guilty to the murders of 51 Muslim worshippers, 40 charges of attempted murder and a terrorism offense. The 29-year old Australian man had earlier denied attacking two mosques during Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand, before reversing his plea.
A sentencing hearing began Monday and is expected to last four days.
Tarrant faces a minimum prison term of 17 years, but Justice Cameron Mander, the High Court judge in charge of the case, has the authority to order him locked away for life with no parole - a sentence that has never been handed down in New Zealand.
More than 60 people will deliver victim impact statements to the court. Some have travelled from overseas and undergone a mandatory two-week COVID-19 quarantine in order to take part.
Among the victims was 35-year-old Hussein Al-Umari. His sister Aya says she wants to look his killer in the eye and tell him her spirit has not been crushed.
“My plan is to eye-ball him. We will see how that goes. I am going to tell him what he intended to do has done the complete opposite effect," Al-Umari said. "Okay, you have killed my brother but God is still there. So, I do not know. We will see how it goes.”
Brenton Tarrant’s crimes sent waves of grief around the world. Many of his victims were migrants and refugees from India, Somalia, Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The youngest to die was a three-year old boy.
The attacks horrified New Zealand, an isolated country of five million. Its people invariably saw their country as a safe place, far from the extremist violence that scarred other parts of the world.
That changed in March 2019. The Friday prayer murders in Christchurch prompted the New Zealand government to ban the military-style semi-automatic weapons that were used by the gunman. He live-streamed part of his rampage, adding to the trauma of his victims’ families.
This week they can tell their stories of pain, loss and survival at the High Court in Christchurch.