Christchurch killer pleads not guilty in court

Alleged Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant pleads not guilty

The Australian man accused of killing 51 worshippers at two mosques in New Zealand in March pleaded not guilty to all charges in a court on Friday.

He appeared to smirk as counsel entered not-guilty pleas on his behalf.

Tarrant appeared in the court via video link from the maximum-security prison where he has been held since March.

The courtroom was filled with victims - survivors and family members of the 51 killed during the March 15 attack at two Christchurch mosques - with many more watching from two overflow rooms inside the courthouse via audio visual link.

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.

Janna Zat, whose son Hussein Al-Umari was killed at Al Noor Mosque, speaks to the media in front of Christchurch High Court on Friday in Christchurch, New Zealand.

He has filed a not guilty plea to 51 charges of murder and 40 charges of attempted murder and one charge under the Terrorism Suppression Act, the first time such a charge has been used inside the country.

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Tarrant, in a gray sweatshirt with short cropped hair, was in a small cell flanked by three prison officers in body armor vests - who left as the proceeding began.

In an attack broadcast live on Facebook, the lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch on March 15, in New Zealand's worst peacetime mass shooting.

"It just shows he's an animal", Mustafa Boztas, who was wounded in the thigh, told the AFP news agency. Among those who spoke was Farid Ahmed, the husband of Husna Ahmed, one of those who died in the attack in the Al Noor mosque. "I feel sad that someone can be so inhuman and take the lives of innocent people".

Abdul Aziz, widely hailed as a hero for confronting the alleged gunman and chasing him away from Linwood Islamic Centre where seven people were killed, said he wanted to see the accused in court.

"He was not man enough to stand up that time and (now) he's standing there and laughing". Then I would see how he laugh.

Judge Cameron Mander said 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. The assessments are standard in murder cases. Tarrant will be remanded in custody until August 16, when a case review is scheduled. Defense attorney Shane Tait indicated they may seek a change of venue for the trial, which is expected to take more than six weeks.

"He is the loser and we are the victor", he said.

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