Christchurch gunman's plans outlined in court for the first time

Author
Anna Leask and Kurt Bayer, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 24 Aug 2020, 1:26PM
(Photo / AP)
(Photo / AP)

Christchurch gunman's plans outlined in court for the first time

Author
Anna Leask and Kurt Bayer, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 24 Aug 2020, 1:26PM

GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS DETAILS WHICH READERS MIGHT FIND UPSETTING

Brenton Harrison Tarrant wanted to burn down the two Christchurch mosques after the March 15, 2019 terror attacks where he murdered 51 people.

The four-day sentencing hearing for the 29-year-old Australian national began at the High Court in the city of his mass shooting this morning.

He initially pleaded not guilty to his offending but later changed his mind and admitted 51 charges of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one of engaging in a terrorist act laid under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

Tarrant, who will be sentenced to life in prison, was led into the dock from custody just after 10am by three Corrections officers.

In a tense silence, as the Corrections officers unchained his cuffs, and wearing grey sweatpants and shirt, he looked around the courtroom where victims and survivors of his attacks sat, including Imam Gamal Fouda of Masjid Al Noor where 44 Muslims were killed during Friday prayer.

Security was tight outside the courthouse building as well as inside the main courtroom itself, with several police officers, Corrections officers, and court security officers.

After the lawyers were introduced, Justice Cameron Mander asked Tarrant if he was going to represent himself during the proceeding.

"Ah yeah," he said.

He was allowed to sit down.

Crown prosecutor Barnaby Hawes read the 26-page summary of facts – the official narrative of events – for the first time.

The judge warned its content would be "distressing" but stressed it was necessary to be stated in open court and out on the court record.

Tarrant arrived in New Zealand in 2017 and lived in Dunedin.

In September 2017, he applied for and was granted a New Zealand firearms licence.

Between December 2017 and March 2019, he began purchasing a collection of high-powered firearms, military specification sighting systems and telescopic sights.

He also bought in excess of 7000 rounds of ammunition of various calibres for the guns he'd amassed.

Military/police-style ballistic armour and military-style tactical vests which enabled him to carry and have quick access to numerous magazines was also purchased, along with camouflage clothing.

He bought the items both in person at firearm retail outlets and online.

Over that 15-month planning period, he "gained proficiency in the use of the firearms" through attending a number of different rifle clubs. He modified the triggers to be able to fire the rifles faster.

As he bought the weapons and practiced using them, he began to formulate a plan to carry out attacks on mosques to "inflict as many fatalities as possible", the court heard.

He obtained a large amount of information about mosques in New Zealand, predominantly in the South Island.

Using the internet, he found detailed mosque plans, interior pictures, locations, and specific details around prayer times and important days in the Islamic calendar to find out when the mosques would be at their busiest.

He also wrote documents outlining his extreme ideology.

And on January 8 last year – three months before the attacks – he travelled from Dunedin to Christchurch for a reconnaissance mission of the Al Noor Mosque – the main mosque in the city.

He took up a position across the road and flew a drone directly over the building, filming and recording an aerial view of the mosque grounds, buildings, and entry and exit doors.

"From this time, the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre became his primary targets to attack," the summary says.

"The planned time for entry was to ensure the maximum number of worshippers would be present."

He also planned to attack the Ashburton Mosque after leaving Linwood.

Armed Police guard Masjid Al Noor, one of the locations of Christchurch terror attacks. Photo / Michael Craig

Armed Police guard Masjid Al Noor, one of the locations of Christchurch terror attacks. Photo / Michael Craig

THE DAY OF THE ATTACKS

On the morning on March 15, 2019 Tarrant left his address in Dunedin and drove north to Christchurch.

He had firearms, a large amount of ammunition pre-loaded into magazines and four modified petrol containers intended for use as incendiary devices in his car. He also took ballistic armour and a military-style tactical vest.

The court heard his intention was to burn down the mosques at the conclusion of the attacks.

Tarrant took the following firearms with him to Christchurch:

  • Mossberg 930 semiautomatic 12 gauge shotgun with at least 7 shot magazine capacity for one further shell in the breech. This firearm was fitted with a Bushnell "red dot" sight. The firearm magazine contained nine 00 Buckshot shells.
  • Windham Weaponry .223 calibre MSSA rifle fitted with a cylindrical magazine containing 60 rounds of ammunition. The sighting system on the rifle was a Sight mark Holographic sight.
  • A Ruger AR-15 .223 calibre MSSA rifle fitted with two large 40-round capacity magazines. The sighting system on the rifle was VTX Strikefire "rerd dot" sight.
  • A Ranger 870 pump action 12 gauge shotgun with a five shot capacity. The magazine contained four 00 Buckshot shells with a fifth in the breech.
  • Uberti .357 Magnum lever action rifle with a tubular magazine with capacity to hold 13 rounds of .357 magnum ammunition - 12 in the magazine and one in the breech.
  • Mossberg Predator bolt action .223 calibre fitted with a 30 round magazine.

Tarrant had written on the firearms and magazines making reference to various names and dates referencing historic figures and events such as battles and figures in the Crusades, more recent terror attacks and symbols including some used by the Latvian, Hungarian, Estoninan and Norweigan SS.

He travelled along SH1 and arrived at the outskirts of Christchurch at 12.55pm.

He parked in a carpark close to the Al Noor Mosque and undertook his final preparations.
This included wrapping one of the bulletproof vests around the back of the driver's seat to provide some ballistic protection while driving. He also arranged four of the firearms in the front passenger seat and driver's foot well within reach.

The remaining two firearms were laid in the rear luggage compartment of the car alongside the four incendiary devices.

Tarrant was dressed in military style camouflage clothing and dull tactical vest with front pockets containing at least seven fully loaded .223 magazines and a scabbard holding a bayonet style knife. He had written text similar to that referred to above on the blade of the knife.

He mounted a Go Pro camera to the front of his ballistic police-style tactical helmet to record the attacks. It had a live feed capability allowing the footage to be broadcast online in real time.

Tarrant also attached an audio speaker to the front of his vest though which he played loud music from the time of entry to the Al Noor mosques.

At 1.28pm, he sent a "manifesto" to an extremist website.

Three minutes later, he sent messages to his family outlining his intentions and instructions on how to deal with media and police following his attack.

And at 1.32pm, he activated the Go Pro which began recording and sending a live feed to the internet via Facebook.

Shortly before the attack Tarrant sent emails containing specific threats to the Christchurch mosques to Parliamentary Services as well as numerous media agencies both national and international.

"The timing of these emails was designed to limit any emergency services response ensuring there was insufficient time to stop him carrying out his plans," the summary says.

At this time, there were approximately 190 worshippers inside Al Noor - predominantly men of various ages however there were also women and children present.

He drove into Deans Ave where he stopped for a short time because he was early. He also turned a strobe light flashing torch on designed to cause confusion amongst his victims.

He turned the Go Pro camera towards his face, "clearly identifying himself" and spoke into the camera at various times throughout the attack "as though addressing an audience".

Armed Police guard Linwood Mosque after Christchurch terror attacks. Photo / Michael Craig

Armed Police guard Linwood Mosque after Christchurch terror attacks. Photo / Michael Craig

AL NOOR

Tarrant parked his vehicle in a driveway neighbouring Al Noor and got out. He slung the Windham Weaponry AR-15 rifle over his shoulder and carried the Mossberg Shotgun. The other firearms and incendiary devices were left in the vehicle. He walked out onto the footpath of Deans Ave and into the carpark of the mosque.

As he approached the front door of the mosque, worshippers Mounir Soliman, Syed Ali, Amjad Hamid and Hussein Moustafa were entering the mosque in front of him. The men had their backs to him and did not notice him approaching.

Without warning Tarrant raised the shotgun and fired nine aimed shots in quick succession - so began his rampage which left 44 people dead and 35 injured in or around Al Noor.

All four men were later pronounced dead.

Tarrant then saw Ata Mohammad Ata Layan running towards a doorway. He fired four aimed shots at the fleeing man, hitting him multiple times in the chest, abdomen and right arm. He fell to the ground motionless. He was later pronounced deceased.

As the heavily-armed gunman approached the main prayer room, Ali Elmadani ran from right to left across the end of the hallway. Tarrant raised the AR-15 and fired four aimed shots. Elmadani collapsed to the ground and lay motionless.

Tarrant then went into the main prayer room where worshippers were huddled together and trying to hide.

Using his high-powered AR-15 rifle, he sprayed the room on both sides. The rate of fire was "extremely high" and he moved the weapon across the room and back many times.

He would reload when he ran out of ammunition – and aimed at people trying to escape.

"Tarrant aimed the AR-15 slowly and deliberately at the heads of people who appeared to be alive and systematically shot them," the court heard.

One of those in the main prayer room was 3-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim. He was clinging to his father's leg when Tarrant aimed and shot him with two precisely aimed shots.

As Tarrant exited the mosque and walked out of the gateway. Turning right and seeing at least four people on the footpath in the distance, he raised the AR-15 and fired 27 shots at them as they ran away.

In that group was Mohammad Faruk. As he neared the intersection of Deans Ave and Palazzo Lane, Faruk was shot through his back into his abdomen and also in his lower legs. He was later pronounced dead at that location.

Others received life-threatening gunshot wounds.

Sazada Akhter, who was running away up Deans Ave towards Riccarton Rd, was hit with one shot which caused significant spinal injury. She will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

The magazine of the AR-15 ran empty and Tarrant discarded it on the ground before walking back to his Subaru. He discarded the Windham Weaponry AR-15 on the ground and retrieved the Ruger.

He lifted one of the incendiary devices from the same area of the vehicle but ultimately left it in the rear of the car.

Now armed with the Ruger, fully loaded with two full magazines – Tarrant ran back onto Deans Ave and south towards the mosque gates.

He fired into those fleeing or hiding in the car-park, killing more people.

Tarrant returned to the main prayer room firing again into the groups of people and others trying to hide.

"He fired methodically into the bodies and heads of anyone still showing signs of life."

As he entered the carpark two women were trying to escape via a pedestrian gate. Tarrant raised the AR-15 and fired two aimed shots mortally wounding Ansi Karippakulam Alibava causing her to fall in the driveway in front of his Subaru.

He walked out onto Deans Ave and turned left towards where the women had run – and fired two shots.

The first hit Husna Ahmed in the back, causing an a fatal injury to her chest.

Alibava was lying on the side of the road on her back with her arms raised in the air crying for help. Tarrant raised the AR-15 and fired two shots at the other woman who was running up Deans Ave.

He then walked up to Alibava and shot her twice fatally at point blank range from under 1m away.

Tarrant returned to his Subaru. He placed the Ruger beside him between his right leg and the driver's door.

He drove forward directly over Alibava's and turned left towards Riccarton Rd.

Police relocate flower tributes from Hagley Park to Masjid Al Noor, Christchurch. Photo / Michael Craig

Police relocate flower tributes from Hagley Park to Masjid Al Noor, Christchurch. Photo / Michael Craig

LINWOOD ISLAMIC CENTRE

After leaving Al Noor Tarrant selected the next destination in his vehicle's GPS unit and started to drive to that destination – the Linwood Islamic Centre – firing at people in cars and on foot as he left.

Minutes later, he entered the driveway of the Linwood Islamic Centre and parked - preventing any vehicle entering or leaving.

Ghulam Hussain, Muhammad Raza, and Karam Bibi were shot dead in the driveway before the gunman continued to the mosque.

As he passed the first window of the mosque, Tarrant saw Mohammed Khan's head silhouetted in the window. He raised the rifle and shot him dead.

He then fired the rifle through the window again before discarding his now empty weapon and running back down the driveway to his car.

As he reached into the Subaru, Abdul Aziz Wahabazadah walked down the driveway from the direction of the mosque screaming at him.

Tarrant took the Ruger and fired three aimed shots directly at him as he dove between parked vehicles to escape.

Tarrant walked back up the driveway and fired again into the main prayer room, killing more people.

As he went to flee the mosque, Wahabazadah chased him and threw a discarded rifle through the Subaru's window.

A total of seven people died at the Islamic Centre.

HIS ARREST

Tarrant drove east along Linwood Ave before turning right into Aldwins Rd and right onto Brougham Street.

At this point police officers were able to ram Tarrant's car with a police vehicle.

He was then arrested.

When spoken to by police, Tarrant admitted going to both mosques intending to kill as many people as he could.

He admitted that the incendiary devices were to burn the mosques down and said he had wished he had done so.

He stated that he wanted to have shot more people than he did and was on the way to another mosque in Ashburton to carry out another attack when he was stopped.

In his interview Tarrant referred to his attacks as "terror attacks". He further started the attacks were motivated by his ideological beliefs and he intended to instil fear into those he described as "invaders" including Muslim population of more generally non-European immigrants.

He also admitted that he had taken planning steps towards attacking other mosques in New Zealand before deciding on Christchurch.

Justice Mander earlier outlined how the hearing would take place and reminded media again of its obligations in reporting the case.

He also outlined how the Covid-19 global pandemic has impacted the court case, and limited the number of people who could witness events in person.

More than 300 people in 15 countries will view a livestream of the hearing. Interpretations in eight languages will be provided.

More than 60 victim impact statements will be read to the court – telling the killer in court how his offending has impacted on their lives. The judge noted he has read them all.

Justice Mander said he would not deliver his sentence before Thursday morning.