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Alleged Christchurch mosque gunman to face 50 murder charges

Mark Mitchell, New Zealand Herald, REUTERS | Brenton Tarrant is seen in the dock during his appearance in the Christchurch District Court on March 16, 2019.

The Australian man arrested over New Zealand's mosques shooting massacre will face a total of 50 murder charges and 39 attempted murder charges when he appears in court on Friday, police said.

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Brenton Tarrant, 28, was previously charged with one murder as a holding measure, but police said Thursday that all the deaths and injuries in the March 15 attacks will be now be reflected in the upgraded charges during his court appearance.

"The man arrested in relation to the Christchurch terror attacks will face 50 murder and 39 attempted murder charges when he appears in the High Court in Christchurch on Friday," they said in a brief statement.

The attack saw Tarrant use semi-automatic weapons to kill and wound locals attending Friday prayers at their mosques. The youngest victim was just 3-years-old.

The gunman broadcast his attack live on Facebook.

'Terrorist attack'

The shootings at the al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre shocked a nation generally regarded as one of the safest in the world.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the massacre, the worst mass shooting by a lone gunman in New Zealand, as a "terrorist attack" and some legal experts believe this could result in charges under New Zealand's terrorism laws.

“Other charges are still under consideration,” police said in a statement.

>> Read more: Compassion, grit takes 'Jacindamania' to new heights after mosque attack

Tarrant is due to appear in Christchurch's High Court through a video link from a maximum security prison in Auckland at 10:00am local time (21:00 GMT) on Friday.

Beginning of legal proceedings

A High Court judge said in court minutes this week that the appearance would largely be procedural and that Tarrant would not be required to enter a plea to the charges he faced.

"The principal purpose of the call on 5 April will be to ascertain the defendant’s position regarding legal representation and to receive information from the Crown regarding certain procedural steps and when it is envisaged those steps will be completed," said Judge Cameron Mander.

Police said further charges were being considered against Tarrant -- a self-avowed white supremacist -- but did not specify what they were.

Tarrant sacked a court-appointed lawyer after his first court appearance on March 16, raising fears he wanted to represent himself and attempt to use any trial as a propaganda platform.

The court has now barred media from filming or photographing the accused

>> Read more: Christchurch sees outpouring of inter-faith solidarity after mosque attack

The massacre has prompted New Zealand's prime minister to order major reforms of the country's gun laws, including an effective ban on assault weapons and semi-automatic rifles.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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