A gunman entered a mosque and began shooting with an automatic weapon in New Zealand’s city of Christchurch on Friday.
Witnesses said there were many dead. Police said they were dealing with an “active shooter” situation.
“A serious and evolving situation is occurring in Christchurch with an active shooter,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said in a statement.
Police confirmed a second shooting occurred at another mosque in the South Island city. No details were immediately available.
Authorities have not described the scale of Friday’s shooting but urged people in central Christchurch to stay indoors. Police warned worshippers not to visit mosques “anywhere in New Zealand”.
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 said he went into the mosque 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.
Sam Clarke, a reporter with TVNZ, spoke with several people inside the mosque when the shooting began. He told Al Jazeera a man entered with a machine gun 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.
He said some 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”, said Clarke.
“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.”
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 describe the scene 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.