New Zealand mosque attack victims confront gunman in courtroom

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — The gunman who attacked worshipers at two New Zealand mosques last year, killing 51 people and injuring 49, faced his surviving victims and relatives of the deceased in a courtroom on Monday as harrowing new details of the killing spree emerged.

A judge this week is determining the sentence for Brenton Tarrant, who pleaded guilty in March to dozens of counts of murder and attempted murder and one count of committing a terrorist act in connection with the March 15, 2019, massacres at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch. The 29-year-old Australian had posted white-supremacist views online and live-streamed the slaughter on Facebook.

The attacks — the worst act of violence in New Zealand’s modern history — shocked a nation accustomed to low crime rates and little history of terrorist activity, and spurred Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to tighten gun laws.


As the hearing began Monday under social distancing restrictions and with police snipers positioned on the court’s roof, prosecutor Barnaby Hawes said that Tarrant had studied the mosques’ layouts and exit routes to maximize casualties, and contacted his family about his planned deeds shortly before he began his assault.

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Tarrant sat impassively in the dock, his head often bowed, as details of his crimes were read out. He glanced occasionally around the courtroom but showed little reaction as survivors relived the horror.

‘‘The gunman and I looked into each other’s eyes . . . I was shot nine times,’’ said Temel Atacocugu, looking at Tarrant as he recounted the carnage at the Al Noor Mosque.

‘‘I laid under bodies in the mosque, thinking I was going to die,’’ he said. ‘‘I tried to lie as still as possible when the gunman came back a second time. I could feel the blood and brains of the person above me running down my face and neck. I couldn’t move or make a sound, as the gunman would have executed me.’’

Washington Post