By BRITT CLENNETT, ABC News
(CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand) — “Your crimes are so wicked that even if you are detained until you die, it will not exhaust the requirements of punishment,” said Judge Cameron Mander on Thursday, handing down New Zealand’s maximum sentence to the man who carried out the country’s worst gun massacre at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15 last year.
Far-right terrorist Brenton Tarrant will be imprisoned without the possibility of ever leaving jail, marking the first time in New Zealand’s legal history that strictest sentencing has been used.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the sentence meant Tarrant would have “no notoriety, no platform.”
Ardern went on to say, “We have no cause to think about him, to see him or to hear from him again. … His deserves to be a lifetime of complete and utter silence.”
The 29-year-old Tarrant, who is Australian, had earlier pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 attempted murders and one charge of terrorism.
Judge Mander read out the names of every victim who was killed or injured. He said Tarrant’s “inhuman” actions were motivated by a “warped” and “malignant” ideology. Tarrant had posted his white supremacist writings online before the shooting rampage, which he livestreamed on Facebook.
“The sentencing closed a chapter of my life that opened on March 15, 2019,” Sardar Faisal Abbas, a survivor of the attack on Al Noor Mosque, told ABC News after Thursday’s outcome.
Abbas happened to be in the restroom when Tarrant stormed the mosque and said, “He missed me by 30 seconds.”
The 37-year-old alerted the emergency services at 1:41 p.m. that day.
“I’m glad the sentence excluded the option of parole for the terrorist,” said Abbas. “It makes me feel good to know that a murderer like him will never roam free and I can sleep better now and be at ease.”
Habib Marwat, a Muslim community leader in Christchurch, told ABC News, “Justice is served, this is the phrase on most people’s lips. Hopefully this will be the closure of this hard chapter for some of the victims.”
“However,” Marwat continued, “this long journey is not over, as the 92 children of the deceased will be living and conveying this story to the next generation.”
Marwat gave thanks to the local community for their show of “love and solidarity” in supporting the victims.
There were scenes of jubilation outside the High Court in Christchurch on Thursday, with Muslims and non-Muslims embracing.
During the four-day hearing, family members of the victims and survivors gave impassioned speeches of mourning and defiance. They showed a myriad of emotions — including outrage, sorrow and forgiveness — as they described what his crimes had taken away from them and the pain he had caused the Muslim community. Some of them recited verses from the Quran.
Among the grieving speakers was Abdiramen Ibrahim, whose 3-year-old brother was shot dead as he clung to his father’s leg.
“The horrendous crime this evil man committed has shattered our lives,” Ibrahim said. “However, we still love and feel we belong in this country.”
Ahad Nabi, whose 71-year-old father was killed at Al Noor Mosque, gave Tarrant the middle finger and said, “You deserve to be buried in a landfill.”
Imam Gamal Makhtar Mohamed Fouda had been addressing the worshippers from the pulpit at the time of the attack. In the courtroom, he told Tarrant: “If you have done anything, you have brought the world community closer with your evil actions.”
Tarrant showed little emotion during their statements as he sat in the dock, shackled and surrounded by police. He chose to represent himself at the hearing and declined to address the court personally.
The court learned how Tarrant had carefully planned out the dual attacks, flying a drone over the Al Noor Mosque and obtaining building layouts, in order to kill as many people as possible.
Tarrant first targeted worshippers inside the Al Noor Mosque, where he killed 44 people and left 35 injured. He continued his rampage four miles away at the Linwood Islamic Centre, killing another seven people and wounding five. He had plans to attack a third location but was detained before he had the chance to do so.
Tarrant had six weapons with him, including a semi-automatic shotgun and two military-style assault rifles. He had acquired the guns with a local firearms license, issued after he arrived in New Zealand in 2017.
With the nation of 5 million left stunned by the harrowing events of that day, it took less than a month for the rules around gun control to change. New Zealand’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons.
The attack also prompted tighter restrictions on hate speech on social media platforms.
There are now questions hanging over whether Tarrant, an Australian citizen, might be sent back to his home country to serve out his sentence.
New Zealand’s Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said Tarrant should be deported and jailed in Australia to save taxpayers’ money.
However, as it stands, the two countries do not have a prisoner swap agreement, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the prospect has yet to be raised with him.
Survivor Sardar Faisal Abbas told ABC News, “He committed the crime on New Zealand soil and I believe he should serve the sentence here as well.”
“He struck at the heart of our Kiwi society and we are all devastated, regardless of race and religion, and I think Australians won’t ever be able to understand the severity of punishment or care for what happens to him.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.