At least 49 people died in the shooting in two crowded mosques in New Zealand's Christchurch, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a press briefing a few hours after the incident on Friday. A gunman, identified as Brendan Tarrant and believed to be an Australian, opened fire at the Masjid-al-Noor in central Christchurch, in an attack which aimed to "directly reduce immigration rates to European lands", according to a manifesto he posted online.
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, however, the team escaped unhurt. The police initiated a lockdown in the area, with schools and other businesses shut soon after the incident. The security forces also advised people not to venture outside their homes as they hunted for an "active shooter". Soon after, at least four people — one of them an Australian — were taken into custody.
The NZ Herald quoted Police Commissioner Mike Bush as saying that the shootings were "abhorrent". "At the Deans Ave mosque 41 people were killed, while seven had died at the Linwood mosque. A 49th person had died in hospital," the report said.
"This is an evolving incident and we are working to confirm the facts, however, we can confirm there have been a number of fatalities," Bush said soon after the attack was reported. "Police are responding with its full capability to manage the situation, but the risk environment remains extremely high," Bush added before the lockdown was lifted after suspects, including a woman, were arrested.
New Zealand police officials were quoted by The Associated Press as saying they are not aware of other suspects beyond the four who have been arrested after two mosque shootings but they couldn't be certain. Bush did not elaborate on the suspects who are in custody.
The police, on Twitter, said, "At this stage we will not be discussing the offenders’ possible motivations or the causes of this incident. We have asked all mosques nationally to shut their doors and advise that people refrain from visiting these premises until further notice.The lockdown of schools through Christchurch has been lifted. We thank the public for their ongoing cooperation. We would like to reassure members of the public that there is a large Police presence in the city."
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the four people taken into custody is an Australian. Tarrant, who claimed responsibility for the shootings said in a manifesto that he was a 28-year-old white Australian who came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the attack. Morrison also said that Australian authorities were assisting with the investigation.
Speaking to CNN, witness Mohan Ibn Ibrahim said he was inside the mosque when the gunman opened fire. "I was in the mosque. It's a big mosque and there were more than 200 people inside. The gunmen came from the backside. Gunshots went on for a long time. We had to jump the wall to escape. I saw lots of broken glass and bricks on the backside of the mosque," he said.
The gunman's 'manifesto'
A 73-page 'manifesto' written by Tarrant surfaced after the attack, however, multiple social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are working to remove content related to the attack. The social media giants have suspended the gunman's accounts. The gunman also live streamed the attack on Facebook before entering the mosque and opening fire. New Zealand police cautioned people against sharing the 'distressing' footage on social media.
The gunman was an ardent supporter of US president Donald Trump and wrote about him in his manifesto. In response to a question about whether he is a supporter of Trump, Tarrant said, "...as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure". He also mentioned his unquestioning loyalty to Republican Candace Owens.
Tarrant also described himself as a 28-year-old “just a regular White man”. He also wrote that he was born “to a working class, low-income family … who decided to take a stand to ensure a future for my people”.
Emma Partridge, a senior reporter of 9 News Sydney reported that the gunman Tarrant has family in Grafton of New South Wales. He is believed to have been living in New Zealand for the past three years.
'One of New Zealand's darkest days,' says Prime Minister Ardern
Ardern said that the attack had plunged the country into one of its "darkest days". "Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence." She added, "Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here."
"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. They should have been in a safe environment," the prime minister said.
"There is no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence," Ardern added. Addressing the media, Ardern confirmed the toll of victims stood at 40. She also said that those arrested were not on Intelligence agency watchlists.
"One of the offenders had publicised their ideology. We have no reason to assume that the others who have been arrested were of any other ideology," said Ardern. Two of the suspects' cars were fitted with explosives, she said. The cars have been stripped off them, she added.
Ardern also said that the attack is "not an expression of New Zealand as a nation". "This act is not an expression of who we are as a nation. Of course, it will take time to heal. Our thoughts and our prayers are with those who were affected. We will try to retain our identity as a nation." Tonight is about ensuring the security of the attackers, she added.
"For now, my thoughts, and I'm sure the thoughts of all New Zealanders, are with those who have been affected, and also with their families," the prime minister said. The deputy prime minister Winston Peters, tweeted that this was an "awfully, awfully, sad day for New Zealand". He added that there are lessons from the day which "we can all learn."
The Leader of Opposition Simon Bridges also expressed solidarity with the families of the deceased. "We stand with and support the New Zealand Islamic community. No one in this country should live in fear, no matter their race or religion, their politics or their beliefs."
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said, "I condemn the violent, extremist, right-wing terrorist attack that has stolen the lives of so many innocent New Zealanders as they went about their peaceful practice of worship at their mosques in Christchurch today. Australians stand with all New Zealanders."
Morrison also announced that he will request all institutions to fly the Australian flag at half mast out of "respect and condolence" for those who were killed in New Zealand.
International community slams Islamphobia:
They should not close the mosques in New Zealand. They should open them all and every Kiwi of good will, no matter what their faith or lack thereof, should stand armed vigil.
— Nicholas Sarwark (@nsarwark) March 15, 2019
Let me quickly explain why the Christchurch mosque shooting affects many of us, not just Muslim communities. If the shooter's manifesto and social media feed are accurate, he was inspired by a right wing ideological infrastructure that thrives, recruits and radicalizes online 1/
— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) March 15, 2019
Horrified by events in #Christchurch. To kill people peacefully gathered to pray is an act of supreme evil, and one my people have experienced too many times. Our prayers are with the community and with the families of the slain.
— Alex Ryvchin (@AlexRyvchin) March 15, 2019
My heart is hurting about the news coming out of Christchurch. Sending love & prayers to the effected families❤️😢 pic.twitter.com/7PX9wc56b8
— Sonny Bill Williams (@SonnyBWilliams) March 15, 2019
Horrified by the news of the mass shootings in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Hate knows no boundaries, especially when so heavily armed. Thinking of the shattered lives and communities, where hundreds had gathered for Friday prayers.
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) March 15, 2019
I hope the “liberals” who promote Islamophobia under the guise of some sort of objective atheism are happy with what they’ve abetted.
White nationalism is kept alive by those who push the idea, however implicit, that Muslims are barbaric and violent.
New Zealand... Sending love
— Emma Vigeland (@EmmaVigeland) March 15, 2019
My father suffered the unspeakable tragedy of losing a brother to gun violence. He was a victim of gun violence himself.
These moments leave us speechless, but together we have a voice: a voice that can call for an end to Islamophobia and white supremacy. Now is a time to act.
— Kerry Kennedy (@KerryKennedyRFK) March 15, 2019
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Mar 15, 2019 13:52:44 IST