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Tarrant won't speak in court over New Zealand mosque attacks

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — Brenton Harrison Tarrant told a New Zealand judge Wednesday he will not speak in his defense at his sentencing hearing for the mass shooting of worshippers at two Christchurch mosques.

Tarrant had the opportunity to speak Thursday, the final day of a hearing which has seen 90 survivors and family members talk about the pain of the March 2019 attacks.

Earlier Wednesday, a woman speaking about her beloved father brought many people in the courtroom to tears.

Sara Qasem said she wonders if, in his last moments, her father was frightened or in pain, and wishes she could have been there to hold his hand. She told the gunman to remember her dad’s name, Abdelfattah Qasem.

“All a daughter ever wants is her dad. I want to go on more road trips with him. I want to smell his garden-sourced cooking. His cologne,” she said. “I want to hear him tell me more about the olive trees in Palestine. I want to hear his voice. My dad’s voice. My baba’s voice.”

The hearing has given a chance for some of the survivors and family members to confront Tarrant. Many of those who have spoken at the hearing have asked the judge to impose the maximum possible penalty — life without the possibility of parole.

Tarrant had earlier fired his lawyers but was appointed a standby lawyer by the court. Philip Hall, the standby counsel, told judge Justice Cameron Mander that he would make a brief statement on Tarrant’s behalf. Tarrant confirmed to Mander that he didn’t wish to speak.

The 29-year-old Australian has pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder, and terrorism. He has shown little emotion during the sentencing. He has watched the speakers, occasionally giving a small nod or smirking at jokes made at his expense.

Qasem said Tarrant made a choice.

“A conscious, stupid, irresponsible, cold-blooded, selfish, disgusting, heinous, foul, uninformed and evil choice," she said.

She said she pitied Tarrant's coarse and tainted heart, and his narrow view of the world that couldn't embrace diversity.

“Take a look around this courtroom,” she said to the gunman. “Who is the ‘other’ here, right now, is it us, or is it you? I think the answer is pretty clear.”

Qasem said that love will always win.

At the current hearing, he hasn’t shown the brazenness he did at his first court appearance the day after the attacks, when he made a hand gesture sometimes adopted by white supremacists.

The attacks targeting people praying at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques shocked New Zealand and prompted new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons.

They also prompted global changes to social media protocols after the gunman livestreamed his attack on Facebook, where it was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.

Also speaking at Wednesday's hearing was Ahad Nabi, whose father Haji was killed. An imposing man, Ahad Nabi stared at the gunman and gave him the finger with both hands.

“Your father was a garbageman and you have become trash of society,” Nabi said.

He said Tarrant was a sheep who wore a wolf's jacket for 10 minutes of his life and that only fire awaited him.

A statement from the father of the youngest victim, 3-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim, was also read to the court.

The boy's father said his son loved playing in the mosque and made friends with all the worshippers, young and old. Mucaad loved to run around at home and dress up as a police officer, his father said, and they wondered if he would one day join the force.

“Your atrocity and hatred did not turn out the way you expected,” the father said in the statement. “Instead, it has united our Christchurch community, strengthened our faith, raised the honor of our families, and brought our peaceful nation together.”

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