Asia-Pacific

Christchurch mosque shooting accused pleads not guilty to 51 murder charges

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The 28-year-old Australian man charged over the Christchurch mosque attacks has pleaded not guilty to murder and terror charges.

The Australian man accused of shooting dead 51 worshippers at two New Zealand mosques has pleaded not guilty to murder and terror charges.

Brenton Tarrant, 28, will stand trial next year after on Friday denying 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one terrorism offence over the March 15 attacks in Christchurch.

Brenton Tarrant, the man charged in the Christchurch mosque shootings, appears in the Christchurch District Court.

Watching the proceedings in the High Court at Christchurch by video from prison, Tarrant smiled as his lawyer entered the pleas to all 92 charges.

A trial has been scheduled to begin on May 4, 2020, and prosecutors estimate it may run six weeks.

A makeshift memorial to victims of the mass shooting outside the Linwood Mosque in Christchurch,

There were gasps and tears in the courtroom's public gallery as the 28-year-old’s lawyer on Friday not guilty pleas to 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one terror offence over the March 15 shootings.

Dozens of relatives of victims and survivors packed the courtroom, some visibly nervous during the hearing, other in tears as the pleas were entered.

Two further courts and some 200 seats were set aside for the public, police maintaining a heavy presence through the building, .

Outside the building, there was anger.

"He's a coward ... He was laughing. Just put me, for 15 minutes, with him in one cell and then we'll see if he can laugh anymore," said Aziz Abdul - who became a local hero after defending the Linwood mosque with an Eftpos machine during the live-streamed shootings.

"It was very hard for us even just to look at him."

An armed police officer stands guard outside the Al Noor mosque in the wake of the attack.

The court on Friday also found the Australian was mentally fit to stand trial after earlier requesting routine reports.

The terror charge against him, laid last month, will be the first prosecution of its kind in New Zealand and some legal experts say it could potentially lead to a complex trial.

Survivors have lamented they'll need to wait a year for a verdict.

Temel Atacocugu, shot nine times during the attack, said he was putting his faith in New Zealand's legal system.

"We are strong. He is the loser and we are the winners. He will lose," told reporters.

Worshippers prepare to enter the Al Noor mosque following in March, following the deadly attack.

But Christchurch's Muslim community has welcomed the decision by prosecutors to treat the shootings as an act of terrorism.

The Australian is being held in New Zealand's only maximum security jail, in Auckland, and prison staff say he has no access to television, radio, newspapers or visitors.

Amid concerns his trial could be used to espoused far-right extremist views, New Zealand's major media organisations have agreed to self-imposed restrictions on reporting.

The case will return to court on August 16.

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