Former NSW personal trainer Brenton Harrison Tarrant – who was not on any terror watch list in New Zealand or Australia – has faced court on Saturday charged with murder after 50 people were killed in two mosques in Christchurch on Friday afternoon.
Tarrant, 28, appeared briefly in the Christchurch District Court and has been remanded in custody until April 5.
Two armed guards escorted Tarrant into the court and he showed no expression as District Court Judge Paul Kellar read one charge of murder to him, The Associated Press reported.
The court appearance lasted only about a minute and he was led back out in handcuffs.
After Tarrant left, Judge Kellar said that while “there is one charge of murder brought at the moment, it is reasonable to assume that there will be others.”
Tarrant did not apply for bail or to have his name suppressed and has been remanded in custody.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush told reporters on Saturday: “A 28-year-old male has been charged at this stage with one count of murder. He has been remanded to the High Court for 5 April”.
“And what charges he faces then will be determined by this investigation,” he said.
Two other people arrested are yet to be charged.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said inquires were ongoing to establish whether the other two were directly involved.
A fourth person arrested on Friday was a member of the public who was in possession of a firearm, but with the intention of assisting police, she said. They have since been released.
Meanwhile, Ms Ardern ordered military aircraft into Christchurch as the country’s terror threat level was raised to high for the first time in the country’s history.
Public events across the nation scheduled for the weekend have been cancelled amid safety fears, with police officers and helicopters on patrol.
“The safety of New Zealanders is our highest priority. New Zealand police remain on high alert. Christchurch residents are strongly urged to stay home, if possible, and stay safe,” Ms Ardern said on Saturday morning.
Ms Ardern also committed to tightening the country’s gun laws in the same way former prime minister John Howard changed gun laws in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania in 1996 where 35 people were shot dead:
“I can tell you on thing right now. Now is the time for change”.
“There have been attempts to change our laws in 2005, 2012 and after an inquiry in 2017. Now is the time for change,” Ms Ardern told reporters in Wellington, confirming there were five semi-automatic weapons used in the shootings.
New Zealand’s darkest day
New Zealand awoke on Saturday morning, in grief and shock after mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday afternoon local time.
The death toll stands at 50 dead with surgeons working throughout the night as 48 more were injured – including a four-year-old child who remains in a critical condition – in the country’s worst shooting and terror attack.
Police have confirmed 42 people were killed at the Masjid Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue, before another seven were killed at the Linwood Masjid six kilometres away.
The unprecedented event has been confirmed as an act of terror by Ms Ardern as police say there is “no guarantee” the risk is limited to Canterbury, urging New Zealanders to be extra vigilant.
In signs police say show a well-planned attack, army personnel were also called in to dismantle explosive devices found in a stopped car and officers were in the evening searching a house in Dunedin, 360 kilometres away, clearing nearby homes for safety.
“He shot everyone”
Witnesses described bloody scenes and bodies falling to the ground as worshippers ran for doors and a shooter moved from room to room for around 20 minutes.
One man, blood strains across his shirt, told AAP he hid under a bench and pretended to stop breathing as the gunman reloaded seven times.
“He went to all the different [rooms] and he shot everyone,” he said.
Notification of a shooting at the second mosque followed, before video emerged of police ramming a car and pulling out the occupant.
Shooter not on counter-terror radar
None of those arrested had appeared on watchlist of New Zealand or Australian security agencies, police said.
Tarrant grew up in Grafton in NSW and stated in a 74-page “manifesto” posted online before the attack he had spent years planning in vengeance for deaths in Europe, before deciding on Christchurch three months ago.
The self-declared fascist said he hoped to create fear and referred to Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. A post on a message board website linked to Tarrant also said the attack “against the invaders” would be live-streamed on social media.
Expression shock, sorrow and revulsion, Christchurch’s mayor Lianne Dalziel called for her city to come together in kindness.
Leaders across the world, including Queen Elizabeth, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Pope Francis and United States president Donald Trump have sent condolences and condemned the attack.