NEW ZEALAND (NEWS 1130) – At least 49 people have been killed following a shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“We have undoubtedly experienced an attack today that is unprecedented,” New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. “Unlike anything that we have experienced before.”
The prime minister confirmed four people were taken into custody but said three were connected to the attack. She said one of the suspects has publicly stated to be Australian born. Police say one of the suspects arrested is a man in his 20s who has been “charged with murder.”
“These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world,” Ardern added.
“You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you,” the prime minister said.
New Zealand’s national security level has been lifted from low to high.
“We are dealing with a very serious and tragic series of events in the Christchurch area,” said Commissioner Mike Bush with NZ Police. “They involve multiple fatalities.”
Bush said police also stopped two improvised explosive devices found in different vehicles. Bush also confirmed that a hospital was a target but no other details were provided.
“There were a number of IEDs attached to vehicles that we also stopped,” Bush added. “They’ve been made safe by the defence force but that does go to the seriousness of this situation.”
“Let’s not presume that the danger is gone,” he added.
Bush he said the motive is still unknown, “we are still looking at the circumstances that surround that. It doesn’t get any more serious in this country.”
A facility where people can get more information about their loved ones was put up by police, Bush said.
“Police are responding with its full capability to manage the situation, but the risk environment remains extremely high,” police tweeted.
2/5 however we can confirm there have been a number of fatalities. Police is currently at a number of scenes. We understand that there will be many anxious people but I can assure New Zealanders that Police is doing all it can to resolve this incident.
— New Zealand Police (@nzpolice) March 15, 2019
Officers asked people to stay away from the area and to remain indoors until further notice.
A live stream of the incident apparently taken by a shooter surfaced online; police have confirmed its authenticity and are asking people to stop circulating the “extremely distressing footage.”
“We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed,” police tweeted.
The same person is believed to have shared a manifesto online before the shooting.
Schools also remained in lockdown for multiple hours.
“It is clear that this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” said Ardern earlier in the day, calling it an act of “unprecedented violence” that has no place in New Zealand.
The person who has committed this violent act has no place here. To those in Christchurch; I encourage you to stay inside and follow the instructions of @nzpolice. The Police Commissioner will be making a public statement at 5pm. I will update everyone again later this evening.
— Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern) March 15, 2019
“We were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate, we were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism… we were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things,” Ardern added.
Witness Len Peneha told the Associated Press 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.
“I saw dead people everywhere,” Peneha told the Associated Press. He says he also saw the gunman flee before emergency services arrived.
“We urge New Zealanders to stay vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour,” police tweeted. They also ask all mosques nationally to shut their doors and to refrain from visiting these premises until further notice.
Members of the Bangladesh cricket team were reportedly on their way to one of the mosques when the shooting broke out. Opening batsman Tamim Iqbal said the team “got saved from active shooters,” calling it a frightening experience on Twitter.
All members of the Bangladesh Cricket Team in Christchurch, New Zealand are safely back in the hotel following the incident of shooting in the city. The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) is in constant contact with the players and team management.#christchurchMosqueAttack
— Bangladesh Cricket (@BCBtigers) March 15, 2019
A cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh scheduled to start Saturday was canceled after the team’s narrow escape.
Meantime, Canada’s prime minister has joined a number of other leaders in condemning the attacks on Friday.
“Attacking people during prayers is absolutely appalling, and Canada strongly condemns today’s shootings in New Zealand,” Justin Trudeau says. “Our thoughts and hearts go out to the victims and their families, and we join New Zealanders and Muslim communities around the world in grieving.”
Attacking people during prayers is absolutely appalling, and Canada strongly condemns today’s shootings in New Zealand. Our thoughts and hearts go out to the victims and their families, and we join New Zealanders and Muslim communities around the world in grieving.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) March 15, 2019
Mass shootings rare in New Zealand
Christchurch is the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island. It has been rebuilding since an earthquake hit several years ago, killing 185 people and destroying a number of downtown buildings.
Mass shootings are rare in New Zealand. The deadliest shooting in modern history before Friday’s attack happened in 1990 in the small town of Aramoana, when a gunman — David Gray — shot and killed 130 people after a dispute with a neighbour.
“This is completely unprecedented for New Zealand,” Chelsea Daniels, a local reporter with News Talk ZB said. “We’re used to things shaking and things on fire really here. We’re used to natural disaster, nothing man-made. This is completely out of the ordinary for us.”
“The way that we welcome people with open arms into our country,” Daniels added. “And as the prime minister said, ‘you may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.’ She said that to the perpetrator.”
-With files from Hana Mae Nassar and the Associated Press