NEW ZEALAND

Christchurch mosque suspect to undergo mental health check

Sanka Vidanagama / AFP | An armed police officer stands guard outside the Christchurch District Court in Christchurch on April 5, 2019.

A New Zealand judge on Friday ordered the accused Christchurch mosque gunman to undergo a mental health assessment to determine if he is fit to face trial for the murder of 50 Muslim worshippers.

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High Court judge Cameron Mander made the order during a hearing in which 28-year-old Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant appeared via video link from a small room at the maximum security Paremoremo prison in Auckland.

Tarrant is facing 50 murder and 39 attempted murder charges over the March 15 attacks on the al Noor mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre, which stunned the normally peaceful New Zealand and shocked the world. The lone gunman, armed with semi-automatic weapons, specifically targeted Muslims attending Friday prayers.

Mental assessment standard legal procedure

The High Court Judge said nothing should be read into his order for the mental health assessments, as it was a standard step in such a case. Lawyers said it could take two or three months to complete.

France 24's Richelle Harrison Plesse reports from Sydney, Australia

Tarrant appeared by audio-visual link from Auckland, where he is being held in isolation in a maximum security prison following the deadliest massacre in modern New Zealand history.

The suspect -- a self-avowed white supremacist -- sat motionless throughout the hearing. He was not required to enter a plea.

The court remanded Tarrant in custody until his next court appearance on June 14.

Highly-charged atmosphere

He was handcuffed when he appeared on the large screen inside the Christchurch courtroom, which was full of family members and victims of the shooting, some in wheelchairs and hospital gowns and still recovering from gunshot wounds.

The atmosphere in the courtroom, which was packed with approximately two dozen reporters and 60 members of the public, was highly charged with many breaking down with the emotional strain.

"(I) just want to see what he has to say, what sort of feeling he's got, (his) emotion, to see what his reaction is, good or bad," Yama Nabi, whose 71-year-old father was killed, told Radio New Zealand outside the court.

Nabi said he felt helpless watching.

"We just have to sit in the court and listen," Nabi said. "What can we do? We can't do nothing. Just leave it to the justice of New Zealand and the prime minister."

'He has no emotion'

Tofazzal Alam, 25, said he was worshipping at the Linwood mosque when the gunman attacked. He felt it was important to attend the hearing because so many of his friends were killed.

Alam said he felt upset seeing Tarrant.

"It seems he don't care what has been done. He has no emotion. He looks all right," Alam said. "I feel sorry. Sorry for myself. Sorry for my friends who have been killed. And for him."

Ahead of the shooting, Tarrant posted a 74-page manifesto on social media in which he identified himself by name and described himself as a white supremacist out to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.

The gunman broadcast his attack live on Facebook.

The beginning of the legal fight

Tarrant was initially charged with one murder count as a holding measure when he made his first court appearance a day after the killings.

However, the charges were updated Friday to include the names of all 50 who died in the attack and 39 others who were wounded.

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

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

However, two Auckland lawyers, Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson, appeared in court on his behalf.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the mosque slaughter a well-planned "terrorist attack", and ordered major reforms of the country's gun laws including an effective ban on assault weapons and semi-automatic rifles.

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

Video: New Zealand to change gun laws after mosque massacre

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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