New Zealand’s first terrorism charge filed over mosque shootings

New Zealand’s first terrorism charge filed over mosque shootings

WELLINGTON: New Zealand police have charged the man accused of murder in shootings at two Christchurch mosques in March with engaging in a terrorist act, the first time such a charge had been brought in the country’s history.

In an attack broadcast live on Facebook, a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted Muslims attending Friday prayers on March 15, killing 51 worshippers and wounding dozens of people.

Tuesday’s charge under terrorism suppression legislation was filed against Brenton Tarrant, police said.

“The charge will allege that a terrorist act was carried out in Christchurch,” Commissioner of Police Mike Bush said in a statement.

The charge was the first under New Zealand’s terrorism suppression legislation, introduced in 2002, after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks in the US.

An additional charge of murder and two more charges of attempted murder have also been filed against Tarrant, so that the suspected white supremacist faces 51 charges of murder and 40 charges of attempted murder.

Tarrant’s lawyer did not comment on the matter.

Legal experts said any conviction for engaging in terrorism would not make much practical difference, given murder charges attract a higher maximum penalty, but were likely added to reflect the traumatic impact on those beyond the named victims.

“The terrorism act charge is about recognising the harm to the community and the harmed individuals who were present but who weren’t physically injured or killed,” Graeme Edgeler, a barrister and legal commentator.

Tarrant is next due to appear in court on June 14, after being remanded in custody in April and ordered to undergo psychiatric assessment to determine if he was fit to stand trial.

Police notified roughly 200 family members of attack victims and survivors about the additional charges at a meeting on Tuesday.

Mohamed Hussein Mostafa, whose father was killed at Al Noor Mosque, said he was glad that the tragedy was being treated as a terrorist act, given the Muslim community had been often been ‘vilified’ by the media and politicians as possible perpetrators of violence since the 9/11 attacks.

“It will cement in people’s minds that terrorism has no race or religion. I’m happy that he will be made an example of … so that such an atrocity may never happen again on our shores,” he said.

Reuters

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