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Suspect in New Zealand terror attack that killed 49 at two mosques appears in court

Twenty-eight-year-old Brenton Tarrant of Australia has been charged with murder, police said.

By Darryl Coote and Ed Adamczyk and Nicholas Sakelaris
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Suspect in New Zealand terror attack that killed 49 at two mosques appears in court
Brenton Tarrant made his first court appearance Saturday in New Zealand. Police accused the 28-year-old of killing 49 people at two mosques as part of a terror attack motivated by extremism. Photo by Martin Hunter/EPA-EFE

March 15 (UPI) -- The man accused of killing 49 people at two New Zealand mosques appeared in court Saturday where he was charged with murder.

Police said Brenton Tarrant of Australia was behind the attacks Friday at two Christchurch mosques, which officials say was a terrorist plot motivated by extremism.

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Tarrant was charged with one court of murder but additional charges will be coming, New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.

He wore a white prison jumpsuit and remained silent during the proceedings. He will appear in court again April 5. The hearing was closed to the public because of the heightened security risk.

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The shooting started at about 1:30 p.m. Friday at the mosques, where hundreds had gathered for prayers. Of the dead, 41 were killed at one mosque, seven at the other and one died at the hospital.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called Friday "one of New Zealand's darkest," and said the attack was "unprecedented," well planned and ideologically motivated.

"You may have chosen us but we utterly reject and condemn you," she said.

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She added the majority of those affected are either migrants, immigrants or refugees, saying it can only be described as a "terrorist attack."

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"There are people who I would describe as having extremist views, that have absolutely no place in New Zealand," she added.

Three other people -- two men and a woman -- were also arrested. New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said all three were in the possession of firearms at the time of their arrest. At least one, though, is not believed to have had anything to do with the shooting.

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"The two other people that have been apprehended, again in the possession of firearms in the general environment, we are working through to understand what their involvement is," he said.

Police did not say how the other two people were connected.

A fourth person was apprehended but later released after it was determined to be an armed bystander trying to help authorities.

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Police said the shooter had two semi-automatic rifles, two shotguns and another firearm -- all purchased legally.

Ardern promised that, "Our gun laws will change."

Some of those wounded in the attack were young children, including a five-year old.

New Zealand raised its national security level to high for the first time following the attack.

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Social media posts police say were written by Tarrant included an anti-Muslim manifesto and references to Internet radicalization, NBC News reported.

The 74-page document says the shooter was inspired by right-wing extremists in the United States -- including Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in 2015. Police said the manifesto contains conspiracy theories and echoes white nationalism seen at protests that resulted in violence in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

Tarrant also wrote that his true "inspiration" came from Knight Anders Breivik, who killed 77 in a terrorist attack in Oslo, Norway, in 2011, and was motivated to defend "our lands" from "invaders" and ensure "a future for white children." He describes himself in the manifesto as an ethno-nationalist and fascist.

Tarrant was a personal trainer at a gym in New South Wales.

"He was a very dedicated personal trainer," gym manager Tracey Gray told Australia's ABC. "He worked in our program that offered free training to kids in the community, and was very passionate about that."

The White House and U.S. President Donald Trump renounced the attacks Friday.

"My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques," he tweeted. "49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!"

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New Zealand's National Security Threat has been raised from low to high for the first time in its history. Police are treating the situation as an ongoing investigation despite the face they're not "actively looking" for any suspects, Bush said.

Two improvised explosive devices attached to a suspect's vehicle were also discovered in the area. One was defused and the other was being evaluated, Bush said. He added a number of firearms were recovered from the two mosques.

"This was a very well planned event," Bush said, adding that the attack may not be limited to Christchurch and urging people to not visit any of the nation's mosques.

None of the four who were arrested had been on a national security watch list, Bush said, adding they were not known to Australian authorities either. Asked by journalists how they weren't previously known, Bush said police will look at all evidence to make sure nothing was overlooked.

"This is requiring every police and emergency resource that we have available," he said.

"Many of those who would have been directly affected by the shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here," Ardern told reporters. "They have chosen to make New Zealand their home and it is their home. They are us. The person who perpetrated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand."

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Police the attack was streamed online and police had the footage removed. Facebook New Zealand spokesman Mia Garlick later confirmed it was removed and posts praising or supporting the crimes were also deleted.

The live stream showed a gunman shooting hundreds of rounds at dozens of worshipers while wearing tactical gear and a camera. His weapon had neo-Nazy symbols and the names of right-wing extremists written on it.

Police departments in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco said extra precautions will be taken at mosques beginning Friday, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan offered condolences and reassurances to the city's Muslim community. Security at other religious sites around the world, including Pakistan, is also being increased.

A cricket match scheduled for Saturday in Christchurch between the Black Caps, New Zealand's national cricket team, and the Bangladesh national team has been postponed, the Black Caps said on Twitter.

Players from the Bangladesh team were filmed escaping through a park near one of the mosques where the shooting took place. Tamin Iqbal Khan, a Bangladeshi cricket player, tweeted that the team was safe.

"Entire team got saved from active shooters!!! Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers," he said in the tweet.

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