49 killed in terrorist attacks on two New Zealand mosques; suspect charged with murder
A man reacts during a vigil Sunday at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, New Zealand.(Elias Rodriguez / Getty Images)
Mourners embrace at a vigil Sunday at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, New Zealand.(Elias Rodriguez / Getty Images)
Mourners share their grief at a memorial near the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.(Vincent Yu / Associated Press)
Dunedin residents leave flowers and messages at a local mosque in tribute to Christchurch victims.(Dianne Manson / Getty Images)
Residents of Dunedin, New Zealand, pay tribute to those killed and injured in Christchurch.(Dianne Manson / Getty Images)
Mourners pay their respects at Hagley College after the attacks in Christchurch.(Michael Bradley / AFP/Getty Images)
Residents pay respects to the victims of the mosque attacks in Christchurch.
(Tessa Burrows / AFP/Getty Images)
A woman whose husband was killed in Friday’s mass shootings in Christchurch mourns her loss Saturday.(Vincent Thian / Associated Press)
A mourner lays flowers outside the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch.(Fiona Goodall / Getty Images)
Flowers accumulate at a street memorial for the victims of the mosque attacks in Christchurch.(Dianne Manson / Getty Images)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, right, speaks with a representative of the Canterbury Refugee Center in Christchurch.(Marty Melville / AFP/Getty Images)
Flags fly at half staff on the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Sydney, Australia.(James Gourley / Getty Images)
Men gather after laying flowers for the victims outside one of the Christchurch mosques.(Dianne Manson / Getty Images)
Police stand outside a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Multiple people were killed during shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers.(Mark Baker / Associated Press)
People in front of the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, awaiting word on victims.(Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images)
Police cordon off the area in front of the Al Noor Mosque after the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.(Tessa Burrows / AFP/Getty Images)
A man speaks on a cellphone outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, after a shooting there.(Mark Baker / Associated Press)
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at a news conference in Wellington, New Zealand, after the mosque attacks Friday.(Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)
Medical workers remove an injured man from the scene of one of the mosque shootings in central Christchurch.(Mark Baker / Associated Press)
A body lies on a sidewalk outside a mosque in central Christchurch.
(Mark Baker / Associated Press)
A man rests on the ground as he speaks on his mobile phone across the road from one of the targeted mosques.(Mark Baker / Associated Press)
Hamzah Noor Yahaya, a survivor of the shootings at Masjid al Noor mosque, stands in front of Christchurch Hospital at the end of a lockdown Friday.(Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images)
Armed police maintain a presence outside the Masijd Ayesha Mosque in Auckland, New Zealand.(Phil Walter / Getty Images)
The New Zealand national flag is flown at half-staff on a Parliament building in Wellington after a mass shooting in Christchurch left 49 people dead.(Marty Melville / AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer patrols at a cordon near a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand.(Mark Baker / Associated Press)
Worshipers pray for victims of the New Zealand shootings at a Friday evening vigil at the Lakemba Mosque in New South Wales, Australia.(Mark Goudkamp / AP)
People wait for news outside a mosque in central Christchurch after the shootings.(Mark Baker / Associated Press)
Flowers are placed on the front steps of the Wellington Masjid mosque in Kilbirnie in Wellington after a shooting incident at two mosques in Christchurch.(Marty Melville / AFP/Getty Images)
The Chiefs and Hurricanes observe a moment of silence Friday before a Super Rugby match at FMG Stadium in Hamilton, New Zealand.(Michael Bradley / Getty Images)
At least 49 people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of worshipers attending Friday prayers on what the prime minister called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
One man was arrested and charged with murder in what appeared to be a carefully planned racist attack that shocked people across the nation of 5 million people. Police also defused explosive devices in a car.
Two other people were being held in custody, and police said they were trying to determine how they might be involved.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” and that many of the victims could be migrants or refugees. In addition to the dead, she said more than 20 people were seriously wounded.
“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said.
As news of the attacks spread, messages of sympathy poured in from around the world. President Trump tweeted his condolences, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement of support: “The United States strongly condemns the attack in Christchurch. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with the people of New Zealand and their government against this vicious act of hate.”
Police took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings. One person was later released.
Though there was no reason to believe there were any more suspects, Ardern said the national security-threat level was being raised from low to high, the second-highest level.
National carrier Air New Zealand canceled at least 17 flights in and out of Christchurch, saying it couldn’t properly screen customers and their baggage following the shootings.
Authorities have not specified who they detained, but said none had been on any watch list. A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for the attack. He said he was a 28-year-old white Australian and a racist.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the people detained was an Australian-born citizen.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said Friday night that a man had been charged with murder. He did not say whether police believed that the same shooter was responsible for both attacks.
Ardern alluded at a news conference to anti-immigrant sentiment as the possible motive, saying that although many people affected by the shootings may be migrants or refugees, “they have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.”
As for the suspects, Ardern said, “these are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand.”
Bush said police had found two improvised explosive devices in one car, a clarification from an earlier statement that there were devices in multiple vehicles. He said authorities had disabled one and were in the process of disabling the second.
The deadliest attack occurred at the Masjid al Noor mosque in central Christchurch at about 1:45 p.m., when 41 people were killed.
Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.
Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semiautomatic weapon in his driveway, and fled. He said he then went into the mosque to try to help.
“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said. “I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”
He said he helped about five people recover in his home. He said one was slightly injured.
New Zealand’s police commissioner and eyewitnesses discuss the deadly mass shootings at multiple mosques Friday in Christchurch.
“I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly,” he said. “I just don’t understand it.”
He said the gunman was white and was wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.
A video that was apparently livestreamed by the shooter shows the attack in horrifying detail. The gunman spends more than two minutes inside the mosque spraying terrified worshipers with bullets again and again, sometimes refiring at people he has already cut down.
He then walks outside to the street, where he shoots at people on the sidewalk. Children’s screams can be heard in the distance as he returns to his car to get another rifle.
The gunman then walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground. After walking back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where the song “Fire” by English rock band “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown” can be heard blasting from the speakers. The singer bellows, “I am the god of hellfire!” and the gunman drives away. The video then cuts out.
During a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque, seven people were killed.
One more person died later at Christchurch Hospital.
Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer-goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.
Nichols said he saw two injured people being carried out on stretchers past his automotive shop and that both people appeared to be alive.
The police commissioner warned anybody who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand on Friday to stay put.
The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting said he came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the attack. He said he was not a member of any organization, but had donated to and interacted with many nationalist groups, though he acted alone and no group ordered the attack.
He said the mosques in Christchurch and Linwood would be the targets, as would a third mosque in the town of Ashburton if he could make it there.
He said he chose New Zealand because of its location, to show that even the most remote parts of the world were not free of “mass immigration.”
New Zealand is generally considered to be a welcoming country for migrants and refugees. Last year, the prime minister announced the country would boost its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 starting in 2020. Ardern, whose party campaigned on the promise of raising the intake of refugees, called the planned increase “the right thing to do.”
Home to nearly 400,000 people, Christchurch is the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island. Sometimes called the garden city, it has been rebuilding since an earthquake in 2011 killed 185 people and destroyed many downtown buildings.
A cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh scheduled to start Saturday was canceled after the Bangladesh cricket team had a narrow escape.
Players and members of the team’s coaching staff were reportedly on their bus, approaching the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Hagley Park when the shooting broke out.
Batsman Tamim Iqbal tweeted “entire team got saved from active shooters. Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers.”
Mass shootings in New Zealand are rare. Before Friday’s attack, the deadliest shooting 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 neighbor.
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