Shock, relief, tears after NZ terror plea

Ben McKay
There are tears of relief after the Christchurch terrorist plead guilty to killing 51 worshippers

Cantabrians have described their shock and relief to learn of the Christchurch terrorist's decision to admit guilt of last year's horrific attacks on two mosques.

On Thursday morning, Australian man Brenton Tarrant plead guilty to 92 charges - 51 of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one of terrorism - in a hearing of the New Zealand High Court in Christchurch.

His decision will spare an already traumatised community the need to re-live the shootings in a six-week trial this winter.

Tony Green, of the Al Noor mosque, said the sudden decision caught his community by surprise.

"There has been a mighty flurry of WhatsApp messages and the overriding quality through all of those is of enormous relief," he told AAP.

"Many tears. And that speaks to the kind of anguish that continues to run through the community."

Mr Green said the long-running judicial process added to the trauma suffered in the March 2019 mosque attacks.

"The protracted nature, being held in suspension by the court process, has exacerbated the grief," he said.

"There will be now a welling of emotions, driven by relief as people try once again to make sense of a new state."

Aliya Danzeisen, of the Islamic Women's Council, on Twitter said it was "a blessing families don't have to go through trial".

Omar Nabi, who lost his father Haji Daoud Nabi as he prayed at Al Noor Mosque, welcomed the change of heart.

"It's about time. His plea should have been earlier but it's good he's changed his mind. And good to have it done," he told the NZ Herald.

"There shouldn't have been a trial anyway ... he was caught red-handed, it speaks for itself.

"God will give him his own punishment. Just like on earth, you are punished, and when you die your soul will be tried."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a short statement, saying she wished to reserve her full opinion until after Tarrant's sentencing.

"The guilty plea today will provide some relief to the many people whose lives were shattered by what happened on March 15," she said.

"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."

Police Commissioner Mike Bush acknowledged the welcome surprise for police and crown solicitors that have worked on what he called "New Zealand's largest ever criminal prosecution".

"Today's guilty pleas are a significant milestone in respect of one of our darkest days," he said.

"I want to acknowledge the victims, their families and the community of Christchurch - the many lives that were changed forever.

"They have inspired all of us to be a kind and more tolerant community."

Victim Support chief executive Kevin Tso said survivors still faced a lengthy road to recovery.

"Our support is ongoing for hundreds of victims who still need help to cope with the trauma of the event and with rebuilding their lives," he said.

"They have our utmost respect and promise that we will be here for them for as long as they need us."