40 killed in New Zealand after gunmen attack mosques

Forty people have been killed and several others injured in shootings at two mosques in New Zealand‘s city of Christchurch in an unprecedented attack in the quiet country in the Pacific.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference that 20 people were in a serious condition after the “terrorist” attack. 

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said four suspects, including a woman, were in custody.

Sam Clarke, a reporter with TVNZ, spoke with several people inside the Masjid Al Noor mosque when the shooting began. He told Al Jazeera a man entered with an automatic weapon and began firing.

“A gunman – dressed in black with a helmet carrying a machine gun – came into the back of the mosque and started firing into the people praying there,” said Clarke.

Police confirmed a second shooting occurred at the Linwood mosque during Friday prayers in the South Island city, but no details were immediately available.

Ardern said: “This is, and will be, one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

Authorities have not described the scale of Friday’s shootings but urged people in central Christchurch to stay indoors. New Zealand media reported between nine and 27 people were killed, but the death toll could not be confirmed.

Police warned worshippers not to visit mosques “anywhere in New Zealand”. A lockdown imposed throughout Christchurch was called off at about 05:00 GMT. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said one of the suspects was an Australian national, calling him an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”. 

Police patrol outside the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch [Mark Baker/AP]

Dressed in black

Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the Masjid Al Noor mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.

He said he also saw the gunman flee before emergency services arrived.

Peneha – who lives next to the mosque – said he went into the building to try and help. “I saw dead people everywhere.”

One man in the mosque, with blood stains all over his clothes, said he hid under a bench as the shooting took place. He said about 50 people were inside the building. 

Clarke said some worshippers managed to escape through windows and doors but “many people had been hit, some as young as 16”.  

About 10 to 15 people were seen outside the mosque, “some alive, some dead”, he said. 

“It was unbelievable. I saw about 20 people, some dead, some screaming,” one eyewitness told local television.

“I saw on the floor so many bullet shells, hundreds. I saw one guy trying to run out and he was shot dead.”

A man reacts as he speaks on a mobile phone outside the Masjid Al Noor mosque [Mark Baker/AP]

One of the gunmen shared a livestream of the attack on Facebook and posted content on Instagram. Facebook said it has taken down the video and was removing praise for the gunman.

“Police are aware there is extremely distressing footage relating to the incident in Christchurch circulating online,” a police statement said. “We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed.”

There were reports racist literature was left behind at the scene denouncing “invaders”.

Commissioner Bush said local police officers apprehended the four suspects. “There’s been some absolute acts of bravery,” he said without elaborating.  

“I won’t assume there aren’t others but I don’t have any information to that effect,” Bush told a press conference.

 

He said a number of bombs were detected and neutralised on the attackers’ automobiles.

“There were a few reports of IEDs strapped to vehicles which we were able to secure,” he said, referring to improved explosive devices. 

Asked by reporters whether police considered Friday’s carnage a “terrorist attack”, Bush said an investigation was under way. 

Bangladesh team 

ESPN Cricinfo reporter Mohammed Isam said members of the Bangladesh cricket team, who are set to play a test match in Christchurch on Saturday, escaped from the mosque.

Mario Villavarayen, strength and conditioning coach of the Bangladesh cricket team, was quoted by the New Zealand Herald as saying the team was close to where the shooting occurred, but was safe.

“The players are shaken up but fine,” Villavarayen was quoted as saying.

Peneha described the scene at Masjid Al Noor as ” unbelievable”.

“I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous. I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly. I just don’t understand it,” he said.

Muslims account for just one percent of New Zealand’s population, a 2013 census showed.

“Many of those who would have been affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand,” Ardern said.

“They may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home and it is their home … they are us. The persons who perpetuated this violence against us … have no place in New Zealand.”

Mass shootings in New Zealand are exceedingly rare. The deadliest in modern history occurred in the small town of Aramoana in 1990, when gunman David Gray shot and killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbour.

A survivor rests on the ground outside the Masjid Al Noor mosque [Mark Baker/AP]

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