Victims of the Christchurch mosque shooting have reacted to the news of the shooter's guilty plea with shock, learning of the surprise hearing only after it was held.

Brenton Harrison Tarrant today made the admission that he was the lone gunman who murdered 51 Muslims at two Christchurch mosques on March 15 last year.

The 29-year-old Australian entered the guilty pleas at a special, hastily-arranged High Court hearing in Christchurch this morning.

None of the victims knew about today's remarkable, hurriedly-organised hearing.

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The city's two imams, Imam Gamal Fouda of Masjid Al Noor and Imam Alabi Lateef from Linwood Islamic Centre, were asked to come to court today to witness proceedings on behalf of their Muslim communities.

But it's understood that even they didn't know what it was going to be about.

The victims were told afterwards, around 11.30am.

Omar Nabi, whose father Haji Daoud Nabi was killed in the attack said he learned of the guilty plea just as he was about to go into prayer.

"It's about time. His plea should have been earlier but it's good he's changed his mind. And good to have it done," he said.

"There shouldn't have been a trial anyway. At end of the day the proof's in the pudding and he was caught red-handed, it speaks for itself."

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Nabi said he was doing his best to forgive as his religion taught, although it was difficult.

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"I'm the same as 50 other families, the first thing on their mind will be to forgive this man because he was led astray."

"But of course it's in our nature that if someone hurts your father, your mother, your brother … well. But I'm trying to have peace and harmony."

It might be easier to forgive after sentencing, Nabi said, and when it was clear the man would serve his time and get his punishment.

"And I know that God will give him his own punishment. Just like on Earth, you are punished, and when you die your soul will be tried."

Fifty one people died across two mosques in the Christchurch attacks. Photo / File
Fifty one people died across two mosques in the Christchurch attacks. Photo / File

Survivor Hisham Alzarzour who was shot multiple times by Tarrant, reacted quietly to the news.

He had been planning on attending the trial.

"It is good ... it is good that he has pleaded guilty," he said. "It is very good there will be no trial."

Alzarzour's wife Susan was almost speechless at the news.

"It is really good news," she said.

Imam Alabi Lateef who survived the Linwood attack this afternoon welcomed the guilty pleas.

"We look to future development and harmony in our community and New Zealand at large," he told the Herald.

Al Noor mosque spokesman Tony Green said the feedback he had received after Tarrant's guilty pleas ranged from relief to "mild elation".

"The overriding feeling here is one of surprise and enormous relief," he said.

"The situation was that life was suspended for those people directly affected."

Green said the trial would have just been one more part of the cycle of trauma that included the recent first-year anniversary, the Royal Commission of Inquiry and Ramadan where public interest was high and directed on the Muslim community.

"All those factors together cumulatively exacerbate things, the trauma of reliving it," he said.

"I think there will be a degree of confusion around this, with it come just days into the lockdown - it is an interesting mix of challenges.

"But it is a relief."