At least 49 people have been killed and nearly 50 injured in mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand in what the prime minister has described as one of the country’s “darkest days.”
The attacks took place at Masjid Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Masjid Mosque in Christchurch, the country’s third biggest city. Around a quarter of the fatalities were from the Linwood mosque. Police have instructed all other mosques in New Zealand to close.
There were also number of explosive devices attached to vehicles around the South Island city which police have defused, Radio New Zealand reported.
Police have arrested three men and one woman although there are fears that other suspects may be at large. None of the them were on any terror watchlist.
One of the suspects is said to be an Australian citizen who is believed to have written a far-right and anti-immigrant manifesto.
A man who posted on Facebook under the name “Brenton Tarrant from Grafton, New South Wales” reportedly live-streamed the mass shooting inside the Al Noor Mosque as Friday prayers were about to start, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. This identity has not been officially confirmed.
The country is in shock as it deals with its worst mass shooting in its history. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a press conference that “This was an act of extraordinary and unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand.”
“It is one of New Zealand’s darkest days. Many of the people affected by this act of extreme violence will be from our refugee and migrant communities.
“New Zealand is their home. They are us. The person or people who carried out this act of unprecedented violence are not,” Ardern said.
Schools, the hospital and council buildings were all placed on lockdown during the afternoon. The national security threat level has been lifted from low to high.
One eyewitness at the Masjid Al Noor Mosque told RNZ that the shooter was “very calm,” was short, had covered his face and was wearing an army uniform.
“He started to shoot them, anyone who he thinks is still alive he will continue shooting them. He didn’t want anyone to stay alive.”
Security expert Paul Buchanan said he believed the shooter is a “very clear white supremacist who has been planning this for two years.”
“This is about as bad as it can get because it shows we don’t live in a benign environment…we’ve been affected with the virus of extremism. The thing is it came from white supremacists and not the Islamic community, [they were] the target today.”
This is a developing story which has been updated and will continue to be when more information becomes available.