WELLINGTON (Agencies) — The man accused of shooting dead 51 Muslim worshippers in the Christchurch mosques attacks was formally charged with terrorism for the first time on Tuesday, New Zealand police said.
Fifty-one people were killed in the shootings at Al-Noor and Linwood mosques in the South Island city, reports Efe news.
“A charge of engaging in a Terrorist Act under section 6A of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 has now been filed against Brenton Tarrant,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said in a statement.
In addition to the terror charge, Brenton Tarrant also faces 51 charges of murder and 40 of attempted murder over the March 15 attacks.
“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 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 was made after consultations with prosecutors and government legal experts.
Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, is being held at Auckland’s high-security prison at Paremoremo. He appeared via video link in Christchurch High Court on April 5 where the judge ordered two mental health evaluations to be completed to assess his fitness to enter pleas.
He next court appearance is scheduled for June 14.
Police said they had met survivors and victims’ families on Tuesday to explain the additional charges.
“Police are committed to providing all the support necessary for what will be a challenging and emotional court process to come for the victim’s families and survivors of the attack,” they said.