It is the deadliest shooting ever in New Zealand. On March 15, 2019, the New Zealand city of Christchurch was startled by a terror attack on two mosques. 51 people died, dozens were injured.
Lifelong with no chance of release
The shooter, 29-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, is sentenced this week. He is likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. That penalty was introduced in New Zealand ten years ago for the ‘worst killers with no chance of re-entering society’. The penalty has never been imposed.
The criminal trial against the terror suspect took another unexpected turn last month when the Australian said he wants to represent himself in court. According to one of his former lawyers Tarrant simply wants to be able to ‘speak for himself’. Until now, he has been ‘present’ each time via video connection from the maximum-security prison in Auckland, and will be physically in court this week.
‘I can not do it’
In the coming days, at least sixty relatives and survivors will also be in court. It will be the first time that they can look the shooter in the eye (again).
That is precisely why Abdul Nazer (32) will not attend the hearings. Abdul survived the terrorist attack in the mosque, but his 25-year-old wife Ansi Alibava was killed there. “I can’t”, Abdul says. “I can’t see his face. Maybe I get angry or panic when I see him, I don’t know. But I can’t.”
Abdul escaped death because his body was covered in the prayer room. “I saw him there, I saw him. He is my enemy,” Abdul says about the shooter. Last week, Abdul received a call from the police with information about the upcoming criminal trial. That was a tough conversation, he admits. “I knew roughly how my wife Ansi died, but didn’t know the details.”
‘I now know how she died’
On the day of the attack, about a year and a half ago, Abdul saw the body of his wife in the street in front of the mosque. Because the situation was not under control at the time, he was taken away from her by agents. That was the last time he saw his wife alive. “The police have now told me exactly what happened. I know how she died and slept terribly badly again.”
Tarrant filmed and livestreamed part of his attack via Facebook and Twitter, which caused a huge commotion. The New Zealand government did everything it could to ban the statues and someone who distributed the images was jailed for 21 months. Tarrant says he is right-wing extremist and wrote in an online manifesto that he was inspired by the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik.
Prime Minister Ardern is committed to making sure that Tarrant does not get the fame he is so clearly striving for. “I implore you: name the names of those who perished, and not those of those who killed them,” she asked last year in an emotional speech. “He wanted to achieve fame with this, but we here in New Zealand don’t give him anything, not even his name.”
There are fears of strong statements that Tarrant will make during the hearings in the coming days, especially now that he is no longer represented by a lawyer.
Not a media spectacle
To ensure that there is not a huge media spectacle, it has been decided that no live blogs about the case may be published. The judge can also censor certain remarks made by the terror suspect in the media or even deny him access to the courtroom. The latter will only happen in extreme cases, New Zealand experts think.
Abdul still does not understand why the suspect chose Christchurch to carry out such a horrible attack. “New Zealand is such a peaceful country, for many this is a safe haven. Maybe the shooter tried to destroy it,” he says.
In any case, the latter did not work. Abdul is very well received and receives a lot of support from friends and colleagues. “But we didn’t do anything wrong and were just praying during Friday prayers. Why us?” He asks himself.
While some of the next of kin strive for justice and travel halfway around the world to be at the hearing this week, Abdul currently hardly cares what punishment the suspect will receive. “Whether he gets a long or a short prison sentence, I will never see my wife again.”
Four days, possibly longer
The criminal trial is likely to take four days, but the judge has already said to take longer if necessary. Relatives of victims and survivors of the attack are given the opportunity to speak up. In Christchurch, extra police will be on the move in the coming days to make sure everyone stays safe.