Christchurch mosque shooter 'spent years preparing for attack'

Over next few days, survivors and victims's families will read statements and address man responsible for killing 51 people

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The man who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand last year meticulously planned his shooting rampage to maximise casualties, a prosecutor said at the start of a sentencing hearing on Monday.

Brenton Tarrant, 29, an Australian national, has admitted 51 murder charges, 40 charges of attempted murder and one charge of committing a terrorist act in relation to the Christchurch massacre, which he streamed live on Facebook.

He faces a life term in jail, possibly without parole in a first for New Zealand, when a High Court judge sentences him this week.

Handcuffed and dressed in grey prison clothes, Tarrant sat with hands clasped for most of the morning's proceedings.

He showed little emotion and looked directly at those delivering victim impact statements.

Crown prosecutor Barnaby Hawes said Tarrant told police after his arrest that he wanted to create fear in the Muslim population.

"He intended to instil fear into those he described as invaders, including the Muslim population or more generally non-European immigrants," Mr Hawes said.

He also expressed regret for not taking more lives and planned to burn the mosques down, Mr Hawes said.

Tarrant spent years buying high-powered firearms, researched mosque layouts and timed his March 15 attacks to maximise casualties, the prosecutor said.

He went to Christchurch about two months before the March 15 attack and flew a drone directly over Al Noor Mosque, focusing on its entry and exit points.

While most of the victims were at Al Noor Mosque, he attacked a second mosque before being detained on his way to a third.

The attacks prompted a global outpouring of grief, as well as scrutiny, with regulations imposed on online platforms after he streamed the mosque shootings live shortly after uploading a manifesto.

In court, Gamal Fouda, imam of Al Noor Mosque, told the man that he was "misguided and misled", and that his hatred was unnecessary.

"I can say to the family of the terrorist that they have lost a son and we have lost many from our community, too," Mr Fouda said.

"I respect them because they are suffering as we are."

The mother of Ata Elayyan, Maysoon Salama, said she constantly wondered what her son was thinking in his last moments "armed only with his courage" after he was gunned down at the Al Noor Mosque.

"I can't forgive you," Ms Salama said. "You gave yourself the authority to take the souls of 51 people.

"Our only crime in your eyes is that we are Muslims. You killed your own humanity and I don't think the world will forgive you for your horrible crime.

"May you get the severest punishment for your evil act in this life and hereafter."

Elayyan, 33, a goalkeeper for the New Zealand men's futsal team, was near the back of the mosque while his father, near the front, survived the attack after being shot in the head and shoulder.

Security was tight outside the court, with police dogs pacing the streets and snipers on rooftops, television footage showed.

With social-distancing in place because of the re-emergence of the coronavirus in New Zealand, a small public gallery is at the main court, with survivors and families of victims viewing the proceedings in seven court rooms.

Live reporting from the courtroom is banned and restrictions have been put in place on what the media can report.

High Court Judge Cameron Mander said he had received and read more than 200 victim-impact statements, along with submissions from various organisations.

Mr Mander said he would not sentence the man before Thursday morning so survivors and family members of victims had an opportunity to address the court.

A murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison. The judge can impose a life term without parole, a sentence that has never been used in New Zealand.