Christchurch mosque terror suspect denies murdering 51 people

The man accused of storming two Christchurch mosques and gunning down 51 people has pleaded not guilty.

Brenton Tarrant, 28, appeared via videolink on Friday at Christchurch High Court from the maximum security prison in Auckland, New Zealand, where he is currently being held.

The courtroom was filled with 80 survivors and family members, while another 60 watched via video in an overflow room as his lawyer, Shane Tait, entered the not guilty pleas.

This is the first time New Zealand has seen a terrorism charge in the country.

Tarrant has been charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one terrorism charge in relation to the March 15 massacre.

On March 15, 42 worshippers were killed at the Al Noor mosque and seven were killed at the Linwood mosque during Friday prayers.

Two more people later died at the Christchurch Hospital, after the shooter had livestreamed most of the attack on Facebook.

It is alleged he drove first to the Al Noor mosque and gunned down worshippers at the entrance, before opening fire inside on children, women and men for around five minutes.

He then allegedly drove to the Linwood mosque and continued shooting.

Judge Cameron Mander scheduled a six-week trial to begin on May 4 next year and Tarrant will remain in custody ahead of his next hearing on August 15.

The judge added that two mental health assessments of Tarrant had been carried out, which found he was fit to stand trial and enter pleas.

Judge Mander said: ‘No issue arises regarding the defendant’s fitness to plead, to instruct counsel, and to stand his trial. A fitness hearing is not required.’

Four cultural advisers and other staff were assigned to help the victims and family members understand the court proceedings and outline the next steps in the case.

A man addressed the survivors to say they had been praying during the holy month of Ramadan and that the Muslim community would help and support each other during the coming months.

Following the horrific attack, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed never to say the accused’s name.

Last month, she helped lead a global pledge named the ‘Christchurch Call’, aimed at boosting efforts to keep internet platforms from being used to spread hate, organise extremist groups and broadcast attacks.