Accused NZ mosque shooter pleads guilty

The Australian man accused of carrying out New Zealand's worst mass shooting in history pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder in a surprising move on Thursday (March 26).

Brenton Tarrant has been in police custody since March 15 of last year, when he was arrested and accused of using semi-automatic weapons to target Muslims attending Friday prayers at two Christchurch mosques.

On Thursday Tarrant admitted to 40 charges of attempted murder and one charge of terrorism.

Tarrant had previously pleaded not guilty but he switched his plea unexpectedly.

That change now renders the six-week trial that was due to begin in June redundant, and the court will instead move directly to sentencing Tarrant on all 92 charges.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has stuck by a pledge not to name the gunman in public, said she was relieved to hear the news.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN, SAYING:

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

Tarrant, who faces a lifetime prison sentence, had posted a social media manifesto ahead of the attacks referring to "white genocide" a term used by white supremacists to describe the growth of minority populations.

Tarrant's lawyers did not respond to a request for comment.