The man accused of shooting dead 51 Muslim worshippers in the Christchurch mosque attacks was formally charged with terrorism for the first time yesterday, New Zealand police said.
In addition to the terror charge, Brenton Tarrant also faces 51 charges of murder and 40 of attempted murder over the March 15 attacks that rocked the South Pacific nation.
“The charge will allege that a terrorist act was carried out in Christchurch,” police said in a statement.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has characterised the mosque killings as “a well-planned terrorist attack” since the day Tarrant, a self-described white supremacist, allegedly carried them out.
But until now the charges against him were less expansive, as New Zealand’s Terrorism Suppression Act was only introduced in 2002 and is untested in the courts.
Police said the decision to lay the terror charge more than two months after the attack was made following consultation with prosecutors and government legal experts.
Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, is currently in a high-security prison undergoing tests to determine if he is mentally fit to stand trial for the worst massacre in modern New Zealand history.
His next court appearance is scheduled for June 14.
Ahead of the shooting, Tarrant posted a rambling manifesto on social media in which he identified himself by name and described himself as a white supremacist out to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.
He live-streamed himself as he opened fire in the packed Al Noor mosque during Friday prayers and then travelled across town to continue the carnage in the suburban Linwood mosque.