By Praveen Menon
CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – Australian Brenton Tarrant will appear in court in New Zealand on Friday, where the suspected white supremacist faces more charges after his arrest for mass shootings at two mosques last month that killed 50 worshippers and wounded dozens.
In an attack broadcast live on Facebook, a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch on March 15.
Tarrant has been moved to New Zealand’s only maximum-security prison in Auckland and will appear at the Christchurch High Court through a video link at 10 a.m. (2100 GMT Thursday).
Tarrant, 28, was charged with one murder the day after the attack and remanded without a plea. Police said they would bring 49 more murder charges and 39 attempted murder charges against Tarrant when he appears in court.
Prison officials say Tarrant is under 24-hour surveillance with no access to media, according to news reports.
Friday’s appearance will largely be procedural and Tarrant will not be required to enter a plea, a High Court judge said in court minutes this week. A section of the courtroom has been reserved for victims’ families and survivors of the attacks.
Tarrant will be represented by two Auckland lawyers, one of them, Shane Tait, said in a statement on his website, which did not include any comments on the case.
Media had reported that Tarrant wished to represent himself and legal experts have said he may try to use the hearings as a platform to present his ideology and beliefs.
Although journalists may attend and take notes, media coverage will be restricted. Judge Cameron Mander said media could only publish pixellated images of Tarrant that obscure his face.
The massacre, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labelled terrorism, was New Zealand’s worst peacetime mass killing.
Dozens of representatives from around the world joined a national memorial service last week attended by Ardern and tens of thousands of New Zealanders.
Muslims worldwide have praised New Zealand’s response to the massacre, with many singling out Ardern’s gesture of wearing a headscarf to meet victims’ families and urging the country to unite with the call: “We are one.”
Thousands of visitors to the reopened Al Noor mosque, where 42 people were killed, have offered condolences and sought to learn more about Islam, said Israfil Hossain, who recites the daily call to prayer there.
“They are coming from far just to say sorry … although they never did anything to us,” said Hossain, 26.
On Thursday, a group of Carmelite nuns stood for the first time inside a mosque, holding back tears as they talked with worshippers about the two faiths.
“Everybody has their own problems and they have their own ideas about religions, and that’s fine, and we should all have that, we’re all different,” said one nun, Sister Dorothea.
“But we’re all humans and that’s the most important thing, our humanity.”
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Peter Cooney)