Christchurch shooting: 49 dead as gunman targets New Zealand mosques
Forty-nine people were killed and 20 more injured after at least one gunman launched a terrorist attack on two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.
The country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the shootings as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”.
Police said three men and a woman were in custody, adding that they had found and neutralised a number of IEDS (improvised explosive devices).
One of the men in custody was confirmed to be an Australian living in New Zealand. Australian media identified him as Brenton Tarrant, originally New South Wales. He reportedly posted images of weapons and ammunition on Twitter before the attack, along with a manifesto in which he described himself as an “ordinary White man, 28 years old. Born in Australia to a working class, low income family”.
Twitter said they had suspended the account and social media were working to remove footage of the attack that was streamed live.
Police said they were not aware of other suspects beyond the four arrested. Police commissioner Mike Bush said there may be other offenders and armed officers were attending a number of scenes.
The Masjid Al Noor in central Christchurch was filled with worshippers when it was attacked happened, as was a second mosque in Linwood. The Bangladesh cricket team arrived at the Al Noor mosque as it was being attacked, but none of the players were injured.
Witnesses spoke of seeing bloodied bodies, with children also believed to be among the dead, and police warned of “extremely distressing footage” of the incident circulating on the internet.
A Palestinian witness, who did not want to give his name, said he saw a man shot in the head.
“I heard three quick shots then after about 10 seconds it started again it must have been an automatic no one could pull a trigger that quick,” he said.
“Then people started running out. Some were covered in blood.”
Another witness told stuff.co.nz he was praying at the Al Noor Mosque mosque when he heard shooting and saw his wife lying dead on the footpath outside when he fled.
Australian man from New South Wales among four suspects arrested
Another man said he saw children being shot.
“There were bodies all over me,” he said.
A witness told Radio New Zealand he heard shots fired and four people were lying on the ground, with “blood everywhere”.
Unconfirmed reports said the shooter was a wearing military-style clothing.
All schools in the city were placed in lockdown in response to shootings and police asked people in central Christchurch to stay indoors. Central city buildings, including the Civic Offices and Central Library, were also locked down. The lockdown was later lifted.
The city council offered a helpline for parents looking for children attending a mass climate change rally nearby, saying: “Please do not try and come and collect your children until police say it is safe for people to come into the central city.”
“It is clear that this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” Prime Minister Ardern said. “Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”
Christchurch city councillor Raf Manji told The National the attack was a “terrible tragedy and an appalling act”.
“Right now our thoughts are with the families and friends of those killed and those who still lie injured in hospital. It is a dark day for our city.”
Mr Manji said the lockdown for all buildings, schools and offices finished at about 6pm, and councillors would be back in their offices on Saturday for “briefings and updates on the situation”.
“It’s been a tough day, reminiscent of February 22,” he said, referring to the 2011 earthquake that killed nearly 200 people and caused widespread damage in the Christchurch. “I fear for the mental health of this city. Kids locked down in school afternoon … this is going to be another long haul, once the enormity of what has happened sinks in.”
The Bangladesh cricket team’s final Test match against New Zealand, which was to begin in Christchurch on Saturday, was cancelled. “They are safe. But they are mentally shocked. We have asked the team to stay confined in the hotel,” a team spokesman said.
He said the attack happened as some of Bangladesh players disembarked from a team bus and were about to enter the mosque. The players escaped to the nearby Hagley Oval cricket stadium.
The Bangladesh cricket board is in contact with New Zealand cricket authorities and will take further decisions after consultation, he said.
This is the worst attack to ever happen in New Zealand. The previous deadliest mass murder occurred in Aramoana, a small seaside township north-east of the South Island town of Dunedin, on November 13, 1990, when resident David Gray killed 13 people, including a police officer, after a disagreement with his neighbour.
That attack led to sweeping changes to New Zealand’s firearms legislation, leading to the country’s now incredibly strict gun laws. This includes 10-year photographic licences and tight restrictions on semi-automatic guns.
However, anyone over 16 can apply for a standard firearms licence after doing a safety course, which allows them to purchase and use a shotgun unsupervised.