CHRISTCHURCH (AFP, REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST) - A right-wing extremist who filmed himself on a shooting rampage that left 49 mosque-goers dead flashed a white power gesture as he appeared in a New Zealand court on Saturday (March 16) charged with murder.
Australian-born 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant stood in the dock wearing handcuffs and a white prison smock, as the judge read a single murder charge against him. A raft of further charges are expected.
The former fitness instructor and self-professed fascist occasionally turned to look at media present in court during the brief hearing that the public were excluded from for security reasons.
Flanked by armed police he made an upside-down “okay” signal, a symbol used by white power groups across the globe.
He did not request bail and was taken into custody until his next court appearance which is scheduled for April 5.
Judge Paul Kellar of the Christchurch District Court ordered that any photos of Tarrant be pixelated to obscure his image.
Two others were also implicated in the crimes, including 18-year-old Daniel John Burrough, who was charged with inciting racial hostility or ill will. The second alleged accomplice remained unidentified as of Friday evening Eastern time.
None of the individuals had criminal records in Australia or New Zealand, or were on security watch lists, said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who vowed that the country’s “gun laws will change” as a result of the massacre.
A short distance from the court, 39 people were being treated in hospital for gunshot wounds and other injuries inflicted in the massacre.
The wounded included a two-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, who was in critical condition. Doctors at Christchurch hospital said they worked through the night in 12 operating theatres to treat the survivors.
Ms Ardern said on Saturday that victims of the attack were from across the Muslim world, underscoring the global impact of the attack.
She said her government was working with consular officials from countries including “Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia,” to deal with the aftermath of the attack that killed 49 people.
Dozens more were wounded when Tarrant opened fire on worshippers in two mosques.
A video live-streamed by him on Facebook showed him rapidly firing what appeared to be hundreds of bullets at his defenseless victims using various weapons.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier confirmed that one of the four people taken into custody is Australian.
“I can confirm that the individual who was taken into custody I have been advised is an Australian-born citizen,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
“We grieve, we are shocked, we are appalled, we are outraged, and we stand here and condemn absolutely the attack that occurred today by an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist.”
Mr Morrison said he has been in contact with Ms Ardern, and that Australian agencies are working with New Zealand authorities.
New Zealand has raised its security threat level to the highest. Armed police were deployed at several locations in all cities, unusual in a country where levels of gun violence are low.