Christchurch mosque suspect to undergo mental health check

Geraldine Edwards
April 6, 2019

Families of victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings have gathered in court to see the Australian man accused of the attack, who will now undergo tests to see whether he's fit to stand trial.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was previously charged with only one murder following the attack and has been remanded without a plea.

The presiding judge, Justice Cameron Mander, ordered a mental health assessment to determine the defendant's fitness to enter a plea.

On March 15, Tarrant stormed two mosques during Friday congregational prayers and indiscriminately opened fire on the assembled, as per the police. The gunman was armed with semi-automatic weapons and broadcast his attack live on Facebook.

Tarrant would be represented by two Auckland lawyers, one of them, Shane Tait, said in a statement on his website, which did not include any comments on the case.

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But Mander said the mental assessment was "an entirely normal, regular step to be taken at this stage of the process".

Tofazzal Alam, who attended the hearing, said: "I wanted to see the man who killed so many of my friends".

The suspect appeared in the High Court at Christchurch this morning via audio-visual link from Auckland. He was also charged with 39 counts of attempted murder.

The Al Noor mosque on Deans Ave in Christchurch was the scene of New Zealand's worst massacre.

The Federal Criminal Police Office said it briefed lawmakers on its investigation into ties the alleged Christchurch mosque attacker had to Germany, including buying a ticket to Neuschwanstein Castle last November.

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Tarrant was wearing handcuffs and a gray-colored sweater when he appeared on a large screen inside the Christchurch courtroom, which was packed with family members and victims of the shooting, some in wheelchairs and hospital gowns and still recovering from gunshot wounds. He has not applied for bail or name suppression, and his duty lawyer described him as "aware, lucid" in the hours following the massacre, and presenting as an "everyday sort of person".

Retired law professor Bill Hodge said the idea behind obscuring his image was that the prosecution might need a witness to be sure he saw the gunman at the mosque rather than recognizing him from media stories.

He is being kept in isolation at the Auckland Prison in Paremoremo, considered New Zealand's toughest.

It said he had no access to television, radio or newspapers and no visitors.

"I don't want a heart that is boiling like a volcano, a volcano has anger, fury, rage, it does not have peace", he said.

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The government has also said it will review laws dealing with hate speech.

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