Forty-nine people were killed and at least 20 others sustained serious injuries when a gunman opened fire during afternoon prayers at two mosques in New Zealand's Christchurch on Friday, March 15. The New Zealand Police Commissioner confirmed the death toll and said that four people -- three men and one woman -- had been taken into custody. The deadly mass shooting has shocked the nation known for tolerance and safety.
"This is an evolving incident and we are working to confirm the facts, however we can confirm there have been a number of fatalities," Police Commissioner Mike Bush said in a statement. He also revealed that multiple explosive devices were attached to vehicles as part of the attack and that they have been sanitised now.
"Police recommend that residents across Christchurch remain off the streets and indoors until further notice. Christchurch schools will be locked down until further notice," a separate official notice said.
The Bangladesh cricket team was also said to be close to the area where the first shooting took place, but a team coach told the local media that all the members of the team were safe. While the first shooting took place at the Masjid al Noor mosque at Deans Avenue near Hagley Park, there are also reports of another shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque.
The Christchurch hospital also said that "multiple" casualties had been sent, but did not specify the number.
Why was the attack carried out?
While the exact reason behind the attack isn't known and the authorities too have said that they will not discuss the possible motivations as of now, a social media post surfaced just before the attack and is believed to have been written by one of the shooters. The post contained a link to an 87-page manifesto that spoke of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim ideas and explanations, reported CNN.
Who are the attackers?
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed that the attack seems "pre-planned" and that one of those arrested is an Australian-born. The attacker is known to have extreme views, but none of them was on the terror watch lists. "I think we should be vigilant against extreme ideology and extreme violent acts," Ardern added
Australian PM Scott Morrison also conducted a briefing and called the shooting a "right-wing terror attack," reported Stuff New Zealand. He said he has been in touch with Ardern and confirmed that one of the attackers is an Australian-born.
What eyewitnesses said
Mohan Ibn Ibrahim, an eyewitness, spoke to CNN about the Masjid al Noor shooting and said that there were many people at the mosque at the time of the incident. "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.
Another eyewitness said that the shooting took place around 1.45 pm local time and he "heard the big sound, the gun." "The second shot, I run, lots of people were sitting on the floor," he said. "The gun was (at the) front door, I run behind the mosque and I was sitting behind... and I called the police," Mohammed Nazir told TVNZ. He added that he saw multiple people dead and injured including three women.
Meanwhile, another eyewitness who lives next to the mosque said that he saw the gunman, dressed in black, running out of the mosque and dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon on his driveway. "I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque," the Washington Post quoted Len Peneha as saying. "It's unbelievable nutty. I don't understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It's ridiculous."
One gunman is known to have live streamed the attack and posted the video on several social media channels. The New Zealand police have asked users not to circulate the video.
Police are aware there is extremely distressing footage relating to the incident in Christchurch circulating online. We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed.— New Zealand Police (@nzpolice) March 15, 2019
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern held a press conference after the shooting and described it as "one of New Zealand's darkest days. What has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence," she said, adding that there was "no place in New Zealand," for the attacker. "For now my thoughts and I'm sure the thoughts of all New Zealanders are with those who have been affected their families."
Ardern has also urged people not to share the video of the incident. "What all of us can at least do is make sure we do not share, spread, or actively engage in that message of hate," she noted.