Wellington: The man accused of shooting dead 51 Muslim worshippers in the Christchurch mosque attacks was formally charged with terrorism for the first time, on Tuesday, May 21, said New Zealand police commissioner Mike Bush in a statement.
The police commissioner said the police would charge Brenton Tarrant with engaging in a terrorist act under the Terrorism Suppression Act of 2002.
In addition to the terror charge, Brenton Tarrant also faces 51 charges of murder and 40 of attempted murder over the Mar 15 attacks.
"The charge will allege that a terrorist act was carried out in Christchurch," police said in a statement.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has characterised the mosque killings a well-planned "terrorist attack" since the day Tarrant, a self-described white supremacist, allegedly carried them out.
But until now the charges against him were less expansive, as New Zealand's Terrorism Suppression Act was only introduced in 2002 and is untested in the courts.
Police said the decision to lay the terror charge was made after consultations with prosecutors and government legal experts.
Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, is currently in a high security prison undergoing tests to determine if he is mentally fit to stand trial.
The next court appearance is scheduled for Jun 14.
The suspect had live-streamed the violence on Facebook during the attack, which prompted technology companies to sign onto a call proposed by Ardern and French president Emmanuel Macron last week to prevent the spread of violent extremist and terrorist content online.
New Zealand's parliament voted to ban semi-automatic rifles and magazines just one month after the attack.
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