The man accused of carrying out last year’s mass shooting at two New Zealand mosques that claimed 51 lives pleaded guilty to all charges on Thursday in a surprise change of mind.
Brenton Tarrant, a self-avowed white supremacist, targeted Muslims who were observing Friday prayers in Christchurch last March in the worst mass shootings in New Zealand’s modern history.
The 29-year-old pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism.
Tarrant, a former gym instructor from Australia, was scheduled to go on trial on June 2. His change in plea came as a surprise and relief to survivors and relatives of the victims. A sentencing date has yet to be set but he faces life imprisonment.
The plea came at a hastily-arranged court hearing just as New Zealand was beginning a four-week lockdown to fight the coronavirus.
The lockdown meant that Tarrant appeared in the court from his jail cell via Facebook video link and that only a few people were allowed inside the courtroom, Mike Bush, New Zealand’s police commissioner, said.
Tarrant has been in police custody since the March 15 attack, where he used semi-automatic guns to target his victims.
His killing spree prompted New Zealand’s government to rush through new laws banning most semi-automatic weapons.