LATEST UPDATES ON CHRISTCHURCH ATTACKS:
- 49 killed in attacks on Christchurch mosques.
- Another 48 people injured.
- PM calls it ‘one of New Zealand’s darkest days.’
- Police confirm finding IEDs attached to a vehicle.
- Australian in his 20s charged with murder, will appear in court.
- Security threat level in New Zealand raised to second highest level.
Forty-nine people were killed and another 48 injured in shootings at two mosques filled with worshippers during Friday prayers in what the prime minister is calling “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
A man in his 20s has been charged with murder and will soon appear in court, said Mike Bush, New Zealand’s police commissioner.
“Three other people were apprehended,” Bush said in a late-night briefing Friday, adding that one was later released.
According to Australian media reports, the accused is Brenton Tarrant, 28, from the city of Grafton in New South Wales, Australia.
A man claiming to be the gunman reportedly videotaped the shooting and posted it as a livestream to his now-deleted Twitter account, along with a link to an apparent anti-immigrant manifesto. Police are urging people not to repost the livestream.
Worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, lay huddled on the floor, the video showed.
Bush said the “unprecedented, abhorrent event” is now being treated as a terrorist event.
The majority of those killed were at the Masjid Al-Noor, a mosque on Deans Avenue in the central part of the city, with the shooting occurring around 1:45 p.m. local time.
During a second shooting at the nearby Linwood Masjid Mosque, seven people were killed. One more person died later at Christchurch Hospital.
Police commissioner Mike Bush talks to reporters:
Bush, who cautioned that events were still evolving, urged people to remain vigilant and said police will continue to be a visible presence in the city and across the country.
Police arrest a suspect in Christchurch:
Video of the accused gunman’s arrest shows officers surrounding a vehicle that had been struck by a police cruiser.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the national security threat level in New Zealand was raised to the second highest level after the attack.
“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” said Ardern, calling it an “extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” and saying many of those affected may be migrants and refugees.
“This is not who we are,” she said. “This act was not a reflection of who we are as a nation.”
Ardern praised police for their work in apprehending suspects and disarming the explosives that were attached to a car. Bush later clarified it was two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on a single vehicle.
Witness saw people running in terror
Len Peneha, who lives next door to the Masjid Al-Noor, told The Associated Press he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots. He also saw people running from the mosque in terror, and a gunman flee before emergency services arrived.
Peneha said he 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.
“It’s unbelievable nutty. 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 and one was slightly injured.
“I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly. I just don’t understand it.”
‘Video very disturbing’
Peneha said the gunman was white and wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.
“He changed magazines seven times,” said Farid Ahmed, who was inside Al-Noor and spoke to the Guardian. He said he took cover under a bench.
Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Bush said he was “absolutely aware” of the video purporting to show the attack, and called it “very disturbing.”
“It shouldn’t be in the public domain and we’re doing everything that we can to remove it.”
Reference to previous killings
On Wednesday, the Twitter handle @brentontarrant tweeted pictures of one of the guns apparently later used in the attacks. It was covered in white lettering, featuring the names of others who had committed race- or religion-based killings. It included the phrase: “Here’s Your Migration Compact.”
Tweets from the account, suspended not long after the shootings began, also showed rifle magazines covered with the names of historical figures, as well as Alexandre Bissonnette, who shot and killed six men inside a Quebec City mosque on Jan, 29, 2017.
Ardern said, “We should not be perpetuating, sharing, giving any oxygen to this act of violence and the message that’s set behind it.”
The prime minister said there’s “no place in New Zealand” for those behind the attacks. She said some of the victims may have been migrants or refugees to New Zealand, but were part of the community: “They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.”
Watch the prime minister’s response to the attack:
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said in a video posted on Facebook, “I would never believe that I would be standing in front of a camera and talking to the people of Christchurch about the shocking incident that has affected us all.”
She urged people to stay calm, stay inside and trust police.
Bangladesh team escaped from a mosque near Hagley Park where there were active shooters. They ran back through Hagley Park back to the Oval. <a href=”https://t.co/VtkqSrljjV”>pic.twitter.com/VtkqSrljjV</a>
As the crisis unfolded, Christchurch schools and council buildings were under lockdown. Police were still urging caution Friday evening local time, even as some lockdowns were lifted.
“Let’s not presume that the danger is gone,” Bush said at the time, adding police will continue to be highly visible in the neighbourhoods affected.
He also said it was not possible to assume the attack was isolated to Christchurch: “At this point in time we should never make assumptions.”
The Bangladesh cricket team is in Christchurch to play New Zealand in a third cricket test starting on Saturday.
Mario Villavarayen, the strength and conditioning coach, was quoted by the New Zealand Herald as saying the team was close to where the shooting occurred, but was safe.
“The players are shaken up but fine,” Villavarayen told the newspaper.