CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND: Three days of frequently wrenching victim-impact statements from survivors of last year’s attacks at two mosques in the New Zealand city have ended at the Christchurch’s High Court.
The court has heard testimony from the victims who survived Brenton Tarrant’s March 15, 2019 attack, as well as the grieving relatives of those who died.
Each has recalled how indiscriminately shot men, women – even young children as he calmly walked through the mosques, broadcasting his trail of horror on Facebook.
On Wednesday the court heard a statement from Aden Ibrahim Diriye, whose three-year-old son, Ibrahim, was killed at the Al Noor Mosque.
“I don’t know you, I never hurt you, your father, mother and any of your friends. Rather I am the type of person who would help you and your family with anything,” Diriye said in a statement read by another family member.
“Know that true justice is waiting for you in the next life and that will be far more severe. I will never forgive you for what you have done.”
Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 29, now faces the prospect of life in prison without the possibility of parole. His sentencing will probably take place Thursday at the end of the four-day sentencing hearing.
The proceedings have been attended by hundreds of members of the local Muslim community, some striding purposefully through the heavily guarded doors each morning — while others have hobbled through the metal detectors or else pushed into the building in wheelchairs.
In local terms, it has been an outsize legal event — but so were the crimes.
Over the last three days Tarrant has been confronted with a flow of survivors, and the relatives of those who died.
“Allah allowed your small plan to go ahead for the people to see the bigger picture and to be aware of our evil surrounding,” said Ahad Nabi, the son of Haji Mohemmed Daoud Nabi, who was killed at the Al Noor Mosque.
“Your actions on that day displayed what a coward you are. You shot at defenceless people that were not aware of what was going on until they knew it was too late. My 71-year-old dad would have broken you in half if you had challenged him to a fight. But you are weak, a sheep with a wolf’s jacket on for only 10 minutes of your whole life.”
Tarrant pleaded guilty to all 51 murder charges, 41 counts of attempted murder and one of committing a terrorist act that he livestreamed on Facebook. An independent counsel with whom the self-proclaimed white supremacist has had no contact has been in the court to assist with the law as it relates to the facts.
Wednesday saw more defiant messages from grief stricken relatives and survivors of the horrific March, 2019 attacks (AFP video)
Nearly 80 survivors and family members, including a number of teenagers, gave victim-impact statements — some of them pre-recorded, some given in person while facing the defendant directly.
Some speakers said Tarrant was beyond redemption. Others said the Quran obligated one to leave that judgment to God.
Nobody suggested the defendant should receive any sentence less than life in prison without any possibility of parole, which is the most severe penalty permitted in what has been a legally novel case.
For the third day, Tarrant listened to the testimonies as impassively as he appeared to have gone about his business in the mosques on March 15, 2019 when he opened fire on his victims.
Accounts of the carnage he wreaked have included detailed descriptions of him calmly reloading an AR-15 rifle and pump-action shotgun before strolling back to carefully inspect the condition of the dead and the dying, pumping additional bullets into many of them as he went.
On the day, Tarrant also saved some of his breath for speaking directly into the GoPro camera he had attached pointing towards his face as though he was narrating a reality television documentary.
This week, however, the reality show ended. The diminutive 29-year-old appeared in baggy prison garb — looking “like a penguin,” in the words of one of the final testifiers — and dwarfed by four officers surrounding him as others did the speaking.
Over the past three days the court in Christchurch has heard testimony and victim impact statements from scores of people. (AFP video)
Sara Qasem, a 25-year-old Palestinian, said New Zealand would always be home, but the home had changed since the murder of her father, one of six Palestinians who died that day. “I don’t get it,” she said. She still wonders what her father’s final thoughts as life ended for him at the “disgusting” assailant
She said she missed the herb-infused recipes from Jenin that her father used to whip up in the kitchen. The scent of his cologne. The stories about the olive groves of Arabia. Their road trips along New Zealand’s curvy highways. Most of all, the 25-year-old said, she missed “my baba’s voice.” Which along with 50 other voices had been permanently silenced because of the defendant’s “coarse and tainted heart.”
Qasem urged the Australian-born national who wanted to kill as many “outsiders” as possible to take one final look around the courtroom and ask himself who the real stranger was.
Hamimah Tuyan, the wife of Zekeriya Tuyan, who was killed at Al Noor Mosque spoke of the long battle her husband fought to stay alive.
“You put bullets into my husband and he fought death for 48 days, 18 surgeries until his last breath. His status then was uplifted to martyr from hero and for me from wife to martyr’s widow.”
“He deserves not a life imprisonment of 17, 20, 25 or 30 years but a life imprisonment until his last gasp, his last breath. It will be grave injustice if he should be ever given a second chance to walk in society again.”
Earlier, another speaker, Ahad Nab, riffed on the father theme, said that Tarrant, the son of a garbage collector, was himself a piece of trash who deserved to die and be “buried in a landfill."
That may not happen. The chances are, however, that the defendant’s death, whenever it happens, will take place behind prison bars.