49 killed in terror attack at New Zealand mosques

Police said two mosques were targeted in the attack that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said marked "one of New Zealand's darkest days".
49 killed in terror attack at New Zealand mosques

The death toll in a terrorist attack on two mosques in New Zealand has mounted to 49, said New Zealand's police commissioner, Mike Bush.

Earlier, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday said that at least 40 people were killed when two gunmen opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch city.

Police said twomosques were targeted in the attack that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saidmarked "one of New Zealand's darkest days".

Witnesses spoke ofvictims being shot at close range, with women and children also believed to beamong those killed.

The gunman at onemosque was an Australian-born citizen, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrisonsaid in Sydney, describing him as "an extremist, right-wing, violentterrorist".

It was notimmediately clear how many attackers were involved, but New Zealand police saidthat four people – three men and a woman – were taken into custody.

Commissioner MikeBush said there were "significant" and "multiple"fatalities. A number of IEDS (improved explosive devices) were also found andneutralised by the military.

A Palestinian man whowas in one of the mosques said he saw someone being shot in the head.

"I heard threequick shots, then after about 10 seconds it started again. It must have been anautomatic – no one could pull a trigger that quick," the man, who did notwish to be named, told AFP.

"Then peoplestarted running out. Some were covered in blood," he said, adding that hejoined the fleeing crowd and managed to escape. Local media reported at leastnine people were dead.

Video and documentscirculating online – but not officially confirmed – suggested the shooter hadstreamed his attack on Facebook Live.

AFP has examined thefootage, which has subsequently been taken down.

Journalistsexperienced in verification techniques said it appeared to be genuine.

New Zealand policedescribed it as "extremely distressing" and urged web users not toshare it.

A manifesto had alsobeen posted online on accounts linked to the same Facebook page, suggesting theattack was racially motivated.

A social mediaaccount had also posted a number of pictures of a semi-automatic weapon coveredin the names of historical figures, many of whom were involved in the killingof Muslims.

Police, who initiallyimposed a city-wide lockdown, sent armed officers to a number of scenes.

"This is anevolving incident and we are working to confirm the facts, however we canconfirm there have been a number of fatalities," Bush said.

"Police areresponding with its full capability to manage the situation, but the riskenvironment remains extremely high."

An ashen-faced Ardernsaid she was unable to confirm the number of fatalities, with events stillunfolding.

"It is clearthat this is one of New Zealand's darkest days," she told reporters."Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented actof violence." The two known targets were the Masjid al Noor in centralChristchurch, and a second mosque in suburban Linwood.

One witness toldstuff.Co.Nz he was praying when he heard shooting — and then saw his wifelying dead on the footpath outside when he fled. Another man said he sawchildren being shot.

"There werebodies all over," he said.

An eyewitness toldRadio New Zealand that he heard shots fired and four people were lying on theground, with "blood everywhere".

Police warned Muslimsall over the country not to visit mosques "anywhere in New Zealand".Friday is Islam's holy day.

Christchurch citycouncil offered a helpline for parents looking for kids attending a massclimate change rally nearby.

The Bangladesh cricketteam – which had been in Christchurch for a test match against New Zealand thatwas later cancelled – all escaped without injury.

 A spokesman said the attack happened as someof players got off a team bus and were about to enter the mosque.

"They are safe.But they are mentally shocked. We have asked the team to stay confined in thehotel," he told AFP.

Mass shootings arerare in New Zealand, which tightened its gun laws to restrict access tosemi-automatic rifles in 1992, two years after a mentally ill man shot dead 13people in the South Island town of Aramoana.

However, anyone over16 can apply for a standard firearms licence after doing a safety course, whichallows them to purchase and use a shotgun unsupervised.

Christchurch, arelatively small city in the south of New Zealand, hit global headlines in 2011when it was struck by a deadly earthquake.

Dozens of people died and the city's historic cathedral was toppled in the disaster. (Agencies)

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