Christchurch, Aug 24 (IANS) The gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand’s Christchurch city in 2019 had plans to target a third mosque, it was revealed at his sentencing hearing on Monday.
The sentencing hearing, which will last four days, began on Monday morning in Christchurch, reports the BBC.
Covid-19 restrictions mean the main court room is relatively empty.
Hundreds will watch the proceedings on video feeds from other courtrooms in the city to allow for social distancing measures.
Dressed in grey prison clothes and surrounded in the dock by three police officers, the gunman, Australian national Brenton Tarrant, reportedly remained silent, occasionally looking around the room where survivors and relatives of the victims were sitting.
Crown Prosecutor Barnaby Hawes told the court that the gunman had began formulating a plan years earlier, and his goal was to “inflict as many fatalities as possible”.
He gathered information about mosques in New Zealand, studying floor plans, locations and further details, with the aim of targeting them at the time they would be busiest.
In the months before the attack, he travelled to Christchurch and flew a drone over the Al Noor mosque, his primary target.
He also planned to target the Ashburton Mosque in addition to the Al Noor mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre, but was detained while on his way.
On the day of the attack, he shot people on the street as they tried to escape the Al Noor mosque, the court heard.
Tarrant is representing himself in court. He had previously denied the charges and was due to face trial in June, but reversed his plea, the BBC reported.
He faces a minimum sentence of 17 years, but Justice Cameron Mander, the High Court judge presiding over the case, has the power to sentence him to a full life term with no parole – a sentence never before imposed in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, more than 60 people will give victim impact statements over the course of the next few days.
Some relatives of victims travelled from overseas and had undergone a two-week coronavirus quarantine in order to take part.
The imam of Al-Noor Mosque, Gamal Fouda, who was the first to speak, addressed Tarrant, calling him “misguided and misled”.
He said he saw the “hate in the eyes of a brainwashed terrorist” as he was standing in the pulpit, telling Tarrant: “Your hatred is unnecessary.”