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The Australian man accused of killing 51 worshippers at two mosques in New Zealand in March pleaded not guilty to multiple murder and terrorism charges on Friday.

In an attack broadcast live on Facebook, the lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch on March 15, in New Zealand’s worst peacetime mass shooting.

Appearing in Christchurch High Court via audio-visual link from a maximum-security prison in Auckland, Brenton Tarrant sat silently as lawyer Shane Tait said his client pleaded “not guilty to all charges”.

This is the first time a terrorism charge has been brought in New Zealand.

The self-proclaimed white supremacist has been charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and engaging in a terrorist act over the March 15 atrocity in the South Island city.

High Court Justice Cameron Mander said the trial will begin on May 4 next year. 

Judge Mander said that courts usually endeavoured to bring cases to trial within a year of the event, but that “the scale and complexity of this case makes this challenging.”

Tarrant has been remanded in custody until August 16 when a case review hearing is scheduled.

The 28-year-old stood facing the camera from prison, mostly with an impassive expression but smirking at times as his lawyer entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Around 80 members of Christchurch’s Muslim community sat in the back of the court, solemn and quiet throughout the appearance. There were some quiet gasps when the not guilty plea was entered by Tarrant’s lawyer.

At the last hearing on April 5, the court had ordered Tarrant to undergo mental assessment first to determine whether he was fit to stand trial.

The Judge said on Friday that there were no issues arising from mental health assessments and the defendant is fit to stand trial.

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