WELLINGTON • A white supremacist, who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand last year, watched without emotion yesterday as relatives of his victims recounted the horror of a massacre that prosecutors said he carefully planned to cause maximum carnage.
Australian national Brenton Tarrant, 29, has pleaded guilty to 51 murders, 40 attempted murders and one charge of committing a terrorist act during the shooting rampage in the city of Christchurch which he live-streamed on Facebook.
He could be the first person in New Zealand to receive a term of life in prison without parole, when a High Court judge sentences him later this week for carrying out the deadliest shooting in the country’s history on March 15 last year.
Dressed in grey prison clothes, Tarrant looked at those delivering victim impact statements, including the mother of Mr Ata Elayyan, the 33-year-old goalkeeper for the New Zealand futsal team who was slain in the Al Noor mosque.
Ms Maysoon Salama said she constantly wondered what her son was thinking in his last moments “armed only with his courage”.
“I can’t forgive you… you gave yourself the authority to take the souls of 51 people. Our only crime in your eyes is that we are Muslims,” she said.
“You killed your own humanity and I don’t think the world will forgive you for your horrible crime. May you get the severest punishment for your evil act in this life, and hereafter.”
Mr Elayyan was near the back of the mosque, while his father, near the front, survived the attack despite being shot in the head and shoulder.
Mr Gamal Fouda, imam of Al Noor mosque, told Tarrant that he was “misguided and misled”.
“I can say to the family of the terrorist that they have lost a son and we have lost many from our community too,” Mr Fouda said. “I respect them because they are suffering as we are.”
Singaporean Hamimah Tuyan is one of 31 women widowed in the attack.
Dr Tuyan’s Turkish husband Zekeriya, a Singapore permanent resident, was the last person to die from the attack, after fighting for his life for 48 days in the intensive care unit with her by his side.
Mr Tuyan, who was in his 40s and worked in Christchurch, was shot at the Al Noor mosque, where he had gone for Friday prayers.
Dr Tuyan told Radio New Zealand (RNZ) on Sunday that she pondered over whether she would be indulging the gunman by reading to the court the effects of his attack.
Would it “fan his narcissism by giving him the satisfaction of listening to my impact statements, and playing into his agenda”, she said.
“But sentencing is an important part of the justice process, and really it’s up to me to use this opportunity to fit my agenda – my husband is not here to speak for himself, so I am his voice. I am also my children’s voice,” she said, referring to her two boys.
“I also wanted to tell the judge in my own way and appeal to him directly on the punishment that I think this evil murderer deserves. My husband would have done the same for me. Of course I hope… my boys will look back on this day and they will be proud of their mum,” she told RNZ.
Another Singaporean, Mr Rashid Omar, lost his 24-year-old son Tariq Rashid Omar, who was a citizen of New Zealand.
Tarrant will be allowed to speak at some point during the hearings, although Justice Cameron Mander has powers to ensure the High Court is not used as a platform for extremist ideology.
The attacks prompted a global outpouring of grief as well as scrutiny of social media platforms after the then 28-year-old live-streamed the shootings shortly after uploading a manifesto.
Crown prosecutor Barnaby Hawes said Tarrant told police that he wanted to create fear among the small Muslim minority in New Zealand.
Tarrant had also expressed regret for not taking more lives and revealed that he had intended to burn down the Al Noor mosque after the shootings, Mr Hawes said.
“He intended to instil fear into those he described as invaders, including the Muslim population or more generally non-European immigrants.”
While most of Tarrant’s victims were at Al Noor mosque, he killed seven people at a second mosque before being detained en route to a third.
Justice Mander said he would not sentence Tarrant before Thursday so that survivors and family members of victims had an opportunity to address the court.