International desk, Mar 15: At least one gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 20 during Friday prayers at two New Zealand mosques in the country’s worst ever mass shooting, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned as terrorism.
A gunman opened fire in two mosques in New Zealand, Prime Minister informed, adding that it was a well planned terror attack. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the shooting in Christchurch was carried out by “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist” who was an Australian-born citizen. He declined to provide further details, saying the investigation was being led by New Zealand authorities.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the shooting as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”. The police said they have taken four people in custody after the incident.
“It is clear that this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” she told reporters. “Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”
A gunman broadcast live footage on Facebook of the attack on one mosque in the city of Christchurch, mirroring the carnage played out in video games, after publishing a “manifesto” in which he denounced immigrants, calling them “invaders”.
New Zealand was placed on its highest security threat level, Ardern said, adding that four people taken into custody held extremist views but had not been on any police watch lists.
The mosques were packed with worshippers gathering for Friday afternoon prayers, and members of the Bangladesh cricket team were arriving when the shooter opened fire.
“This is an evolving incident and we are working to confirm the facts, however we can confirm there have been a number of fatalities,” commissioner Mike Bush said in his initial reaction.
He said one person was in custody but 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 the attack happened.
“Police are responding with its full capability to manage the situation, but the risk environment remains extremely high,” Mr Bush said.
“Police are aware there is extremely distressing footage relating to the incident in Christchurch circulating online,” New Zealand police said in a Twitter post.
“We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed.”
A man in his late twenties was charged with murder and will appear in court on Saturday morning, police confirmed.
Two other men and one woman were detained nearby and firearms seized, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.
He said one of those detained was later released, while officers were working to understand if the other two were connected.
Police also found multiple explosive devices in a car belonging to one of the suspects. The attack was the deadliest in the country’s history.
One gunman live-streamed footage of his rampage to Facebook, filmed with a head-mounted camera. The footage showed him firing indiscriminately at men, women and children from close range inside the Al-Noor mosque.
Police called on the public not to share the “extremely distressing” footage online. Facebook said it had removed the gunman’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and was working to remove any copies of the footage.
The Masjid al Noor in central Christchurch was filled with worshippers, when the attack happened, as was a second mosque in suburban Linwood.
“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 told AFP.
“Then people started running out. Some were covered in blood.”
Another witness told stuff.co.nz he was praying in the Deans Ave mosque when he heard shooting and saw his wife lying dead on the footpath outside when he fled.
Another man said he saw children being shot.
“There were bodies all over me,” he said.
An eyewitness 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 wearing military-style clothing.
Commissioner Bush said all schools in the city had been placed in lockdown in response to “a serious ongoing firearms incident”.
“Police urge anyone in central Christchurch to stay off the streets,” he said in a statement.
Central city buildings, including the Civic Offices and Central Library, were also locked down.
The city council offered a helpline for parents looking for kids attending a mass climate change rally nearby.
“Please do not try and come and collect your children until police say it is safe for people to come into the central city,” they said.
There was no official information on casualties but a Bangladesh cricket team spokesman said none of the players were hurt.
He said the attack happened as some of Bangladesh players disembarked from a team bus and were about to enter the mosque.
He said most of the players went to the mosque.
He said Bangladesh cricket board is in contact with New Zealand cricket authorities and would take further decisions after consultation.
Mass shootings are rare in New Zealand, which tightened its gun laws to restrict access to semi-automatic rifles in 1992, two years after a mentally disturbed man shot dead 13 people in the South Island town of Aramoana.
Source: News Agencies