New Zealand mosque shooter changes plea to guilty

The shootings last March by self-avowed white supremacist targeted Muslims at Friday prayers. (AFP)
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Updated 26 March 2020

New Zealand mosque shooter changes plea to guilty

  • The guilty plea removes the need for a lengthy trial
  • His lawyers did not provide an explanation for the change of his plea

WELLINGTON: An Australian far-right extremist charged with murdering 51 Muslim worshippers in last year’s mass shooting at two New Zealand mosques unexpectedly flipped his plea to guilty on Thursday.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Muslim community expressed relief at the surprise decision, which removes the need for a lengthy trial that authorities feared would be used to spout neo-Nazi propaganda.
Self-avowed white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, 29, had previously denied 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one of terrorism but reversed his plea in a hurriedly arranged court hearing.
“Yes, guilty,” Tarrant told Christchurch High Court via videolink from Auckland Prison as the charges were read out to him.
Tarrant, wearing a grey top, stared intently at the camera while making his confession.
Neither the former gym instructor from the Australian country town of Grafton nor his lawyers offered any explanation for the change, which makes him New Zealand’s first-ever convicted terrorist.
The South Pacific nation does not have the death penalty but Tarrant faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars.
The terror and murder charges all carry life sentences, setting a minimum non-parole period of 17 years but giving the judge power to imprison without the possibility of release.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the admission of guilt would provide some relief to the many people whose lives were shattered in the attack.
“These guilty pleas and conviction bring accountability for what happened and also save the families who lost loved ones, those who were injured, and other witnesses, the ordeal of a trial,” she said.
Asked how she reacted upon hearing the news, Ardern replied: “I let out a huge sigh of relief.”
Judge Cameron Mander recorded convictions on all charges and said Tarrant would be sentenced at a date yet to be determined.
“The guilty pleas represent a very significant step toward bringing finality to this criminal proceeding,” he said.
The plea came with New Zealand in its first day of a four-week COVID-19 lockdown.
Mander said sentencing would take place “at a time when victims and their families can attend the court in person.”
The judge said advance reporting that Thursday’s hearing was taking place was suppressed in case Tarrant changed his mind at the last minute and maintained his innocence.
Tarrant’s trial had been due to start on June 2 and last some six weeks, with police commissioner Mike Bush saying Thursday’s hearing was arranged after the gunman contacted his lawyers on Tuesday.
“Police appreciate this news will come as a surprise to the victims and the public, some of whom may have wished to be present in the courtroom,” he said in a statement.
Bush said imams from the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, the ones targeted by Tarrant, were among only 17 people allowed in court to hear the revised plea.
New Zealand’s small and tight-knit Muslim community welcomed the fact that they would not have to endure a drawn-out trial raking over painful details of the worst mass shooting in the country’s modern history.
“I have been praying for him and he has taken the right direction,” Farid Ahmed, whose wife Husna was killed, told TVNZ.
“I am pleased he is feeling guilty. It is a good start.”
Tarrant armed himself with an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons and attacked the Al Noor mosque first, before moving on to the Linwood prayer center, livestreaming the killings as he went.
His victims were all Muslim and included children, women and the elderly.
In a rambling manifesto posted online before the killing spree, Tarrant said he had moved to New Zealand with the specific aim of conducting an atrocity against Muslims.
The document said he became radicalized while traveling around Europe, although intelligence agencies have so far failed to find any evidence he was working with right-wing extremist groups.
His actions prompted Ardern, who has vowed never to say the killer’s name, to tighten New Zealand’s gun laws and launch a campaign to curb online extremism.


Mafias looking to gain from Italy’s economic losses

A police car passes the Maschio Angioino castle, as Italy struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Naples on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 31 March 2020

Mafias looking to gain from Italy’s economic losses

  • Businesses at risk of bankruptcy due to coronavirus lockdown may turn to organized crime to stay afloat

ROME: As Italy mourns nearly 11,000 dead from coronavirus, and braces for the devastation of the eurozone’s third-largest economy, investigators in the country believe that organized crime is looking to capitalize on the situation.

The Economist Intelligence Unit last week said it expects Italy’s gross domestic product to contract by a colossal 7 percent for the year.
Italian experts believe that some 65 percent of small and medium businesses in the country are at risk of bankruptcy. That is music to the mob’s ears.
Italy’s mafias, from the historic Cosa Nostra in Sicily to the immensely powerful ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria and the trigger-happy Camorra in Naples, were “caught on the back foot by the virus, but are now organizing themselves,” Bologna’s Chief Prosecutor Ignazio de Francisci told Arab News.
Last weekend, Italy’s secret service warned the government of potential riots in the country’s south, fomented by organized crime, should the virus epicenter move from north to south.
The mob was believed by some crime experts to have orchestrated revolts in jails nationwide early on in the pandemic, with prisoners demanding early release, fearful of catching the disease in overcrowded facilities.
“The mob will be looking for loopholes in the system. We’ll have to keep our eyes open for suspicious operations, the creation of new companies, dummy corporations,” said De Francisci, who was a member of the anti-mafia judiciary established in the Palermo Court by Judge Giovanni Falcone, who was killed along with his wife and three security escorts in 1992 when a bomb exploded under their car on a Sicilian motorway.
Giuseppe Pignatone, a former mafia-hunter in the city of Reggio Calabria who was recently appointed by Pope Francis as chief justice in the Vatican, said the epidemic will “inevitably make the judiciary’s job more difficult over the coming weeks and years.”
Italian anti-Camorra author Roberto Saviano, who lives under police protection, said in an article in La Repubblica daily: “Just look at the portfolio of the mafias, to see how much they can earn from this pandemic.”
He added: “Where have they invested the last few decades? Multi-service companies (canteens, cleaning, disinfection), waste recycling, transportation, funeral homes, oil and food distribution. That’s how they’ll make money. The mafias know what you have, and will need, and they give it, and will give it, on their own terms.”
Saviano, who wrote “Gomorra,” a bestseller on the illegal activities of the Camorra, recalled the last big epidemic in Italy, the 1884 cholera outbreak in Naples, which killed more than half of the city’s inhabitants.
At the time, the government paid out immense sums for a cleanup, most of which went straight into the Camorra’s pockets.
It could be the same story this time. “The mafia is already carefully planning ahead to when the economy will start to be rebuilt,” said De Francisci.
Mafias are believed to be selling medical-grade masks originally intended for hospitals on the dark web, and they also have influence in the supply of groceries. They have an estimated turnover of €120 billion ($133 billion) per year.

HIGHLIGHT

Italian experts believe that some 65 percent of small and medium businesses in the country are at risk of bankruptcy. That is music to the mob’s ears.

And they are preparing for a cocaine boom when people come out of quarantine. According to a police report, mafia-linked drug dealers are already dodging the strict limits on movements placed on Italians by posing as pizza drivers and doing home deliveries.
A wave of mafia-linked extortion rackets is also predicted in the wake of the financial disaster caused by the virus.
The closures of restaurants and hotels will have a devastating effect. If money does not come from the state soon, many will fail. And in order not to fail, business owners could turn to criminal organizations.
Despite the nation’s public debt and its difficult relations with the EU and the European Central Bank, Italy’s government has already started pumping billions of euros to subsidize those who are not receiving a salary due to the closure of the businesses in which they were employed.
And Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that mayors this week will issue food vouchers to help low-income people cope with the economic consequences of coronavirus.
Using an initial €400 million fund, and with an advance payment of €4.3 billion, the government wants to help the poorest sections of society.
Local municipalities will have to use this fund to buy food, medicines and other essential goods for citizens with low incomes.
This came after police with batons and guns moved in to protect supermarkets in Sicily after reports of looting by locals who could no longer afford food.
A group of locals ran out of a supermarket in the city of Palermo without paying. “We have no money to pay. We have to eat,” someone reportedly shouted at the cashiers.
Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando, who is recognized worldwide as one of the most engaged politicians against organized crime, told Arab News: “We’re sure that the mafia is behind all this. The state has to be watchful and provide municipalities with enough financial resources so that those in need won’t go to the mob for protection and support.”