Christchurch shootings: 49 killed in ‘one of New Zealand’s darkest days’
Mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch killed 49 people on what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”.
Authorities have detained four people and defused explosive devices in what appeared to be a carefully planned attack.
Ms Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence” and acknowledged many of those affected may be migrants and refugees.
She said more than 20 people were seriously wounded.
“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ms Ardern said.
Police took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation of five million people.
Authorities have not elaborated on who they detained. But a man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for his actions. He said he was a 28-year-old white Australian.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the four people arrested was an Australian-born citizen.
Ms Ardern at a news conference alluded to anti-immigrant sentiment as the possible motive, saying that while many people affected by the shootings may be migrants or refugees “they have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not”.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police were not aware of other suspects beyond the four who were detained but they could not be certain.
“The attackers were apprehended by local police staff. There have been some absolute acts of bravery,” Mr Bush said.
“I’m hugely proud of our police staff, the way they responded to this. But let’s not presume the danger is gone.”
Mr Bush said the defence force had defused a number of improvised explosive devices that were attached to vehicles stopped after the attacks.
He said anybody who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand on Friday should stay put.
The deadliest attack occurred at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch.
Ms Arden said 30 people were killed there.
Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.
Mr Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway, and fled.
Mr Peneha said he then went into the mosque to try to help.
“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said.
“I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”
He said he helped about five people recover in his home. He said one was slightly injured.
“I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly,” he said. “I just don’t understand it.”
He said the gunman was white and was wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.
A video that was apparently live-streamed by the shooter shows the attack in horrifying detail. The gunman spends more than two minutes inside the mosque hitting terrified worshippers with bullets.
He then walks outside to the street, where he shoots at people on the pavement.
The gunman then walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground.
After walking back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where the song Fire by English rock band The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown can be heard blasting from the speakers.
There was a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque that Ms Ardern said killed 10 people.
Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer-goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.
Mr Nichols said he saw two injured people being carried out on stretchers and that both people appeared to be alive.
The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting said he came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the attack.
He said he was not a member of any organisation, but had donated to and interacted with many nationalist groups, though he acted alone and no group ordered the attack.