New Zealand terrorist pleads not guilty in mosque killings, shows little emotion

In this March 16, 2019, file photo, Brenton Tarrant, the man charged in the Christchurch mosque shootings, appears in the District Court in Christchurch, New Zealand. (AP Photo/Mark Mitchell, Pool, File)
Updated 14 June 2019

New Zealand terrorist pleads not guilty in mosque killings, shows little emotion

  • The white supremacist has been charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one terrorism charge in relation to the March 15 massacre

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: The man accused of killing 51 people at two Christchurch mosques on Friday pleaded not guilty to all the charges filed against him.
Brenton Tarrant smirked as his lawyer, Shane Tait, entered the not guilty pleas, but otherwise showed little emotion during the hearing at the Christchurch High Court.
The 28-year-old Australian appeared via video link from a small room at the maximum security prison in Auckland where he’s being held.
The courtroom was filled with 80 survivors and family members, while about another 60 watched the proceedings on video in an overflow room.
Four cultural advisers and other staff were assigned to help the victims and family members understand what was going on in court and the next steps in the case.
A man who addressed the survivors said they had been praying during the holy month of Ramadan and that the Muslim community would help and support each other during the coming weeks and months.
Tarrant has been charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one terrorism charge in relation to the March 15 massacre.
Wearing a gray sweat shirt, Tarrant was shown being brought into the room by three prison officers. His link had been muted, and he didn’t attempt to speak. When Judge Cameron Mander asked if he could hear and see what was going on in the courtroom, Tarrant nodded.
Mander said that two mental-health assessments of Tarrant had been completed, and there were no issues in relation to the accused’s ability to enter pleas and stand trial. Such mental-health assessments are standard procedure in murder cases.
The judge scheduled a six-week trial to begin May 4. Tarrant will remain in custody ahead of his next hearing on Aug. 15.
In the March 15 attacks, 42 worshippers were killed at the Al Noor mosque and seven were killed at the Linwood mosque during Friday prayers. Two more people died later at the Christchurch Hospital.
The shooter livestreamed much of the attack on Facebook.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed never to say the accused man’s name. Last month she helped lead a global pledge named the “Christchurch Call,” aimed at boosting efforts to keep Internet platforms from being used to spread hate, organize extremist groups and broadcast attacks.


Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

Updated 16 September 2019

Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

  • Invitation extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has invited US President Donald Trump to Pyongyang in his latest letter to the American head of state,  South Korea’s top diplomat said on Monday.

“I heard detailed explanations from US officials that there was such a letter a while ago,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa told a  parliamentary session. “But I’m not in a position to confirm what’s in the letter or when it was delivered.”

The foreign minister’s remarks followed reports by a local newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, which said that Kim’s invitation was extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15.

If true, the invitation was made as diplomats of the two governments were in a tug-of-war over the resumption of working-level talks for the North’s denuclearization efforts.

During a surprise meeting at the Korean border village of Panmunjom on June 30, Trump and Kim pledged that working-level nuclear disarmament talks would resume within a month, but no such talks have been held,  with both sides indulging in a blame game instead.

“We are very curious about the background of the American top  diplomat’s thoughtless remarks and we will watch what calculations he has,” North Korea’s first vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui said on Aug. 30 in a statement carried by the North’s official Central News Agency (KCNA). He was referring to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments terming Pyongyang’s rocket launches as “rogue.”

However, the tone has changed significantly with the communist state recently offering to return to dialogue with Washington “at a time and place agreed late in September.”

“I want to believe that the US side would come out with an alternative based on a calculation method that serves both sides’ interests and is acceptable to us,” Choe said on Aug. 30.

On Monday, the director-general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s department of American affairs said working-level denuclearization talks will likely take place “in a few weeks” but demanded security guarantees and sanctions’ relief as prerequisites.

“The discussion of denuclearization may be possible when threats and hurdles endangering our system security and obstructing our  development are clearly removed beyond all doubt,” the statement said. 

HIGHLIGHT

It’s not clear whether the US president has responded to the invitation, thought he has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in was upbeat about the early resumption of nuclear talks.

“North Korea-US working-level dialogue will resume soon,” he said, citing an “unchanged commitment” to trust and peace by the leaders of both Koreas and the US. 

The working-level meeting will serve as a “force to advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” he added.

Moon is scheduled to meet Trump on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session in New York next week.

“It will be an opportunity to share opinions and gather wisdom with Trump on the direction of further development of South Korea-US  relations,” he said.

The White House offered no immediate comment.

It’s not clear whether Trump responded to Kim’s invitation to Pyongyang, but the US commander-in-chief has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator, who oversaw the test-firings of short-range ballistic missiles and multiple launch rockets more than half a dozen times since late July.

While none of the projectiles are a direct threat to the US continent they still pose threats to US and its allied forces in South Korea and Japan.

“Kim Jong-un has been, you know, pretty straight with me, I think,” Trump told reporters on August 24 before flying off to meet with world leaders at the G7 in France. “And we’re going to see what’s going on. We’re going to see what’s happening. He likes testing missiles.”

Experts say the apparent firing of US National Security Adviser John Bolton has also boosted chances of fresh negotiations with the North, which had long criticized him for his hawkish approach toward the regime.

“The displacement of a ‘bad guy’ could be construed as a negotiating tactic to seek a breakthrough in the stalemate of nuclear talks. It’s a show of a will to engage the counterpart in a friendlier manner from the perspective of negotiation science,” Park Sang-ki, an adjunct professor at the department of business management at Sejong University in Seoul, told Arab News.