Christchurch shooting: 50 killed at 2 mosques, 1 man charged with murder
UPDATE: March 16 — The death toll is now 50, the New Zealand Police said.
Shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand left 50 people dead and others seriously hurt on Friday.
One man in his late 20s was charged with murder in connection with the incidents, the commissioner of the New Zealand Police said.
Three people were arrested — one of them born in Australia — after an active shooter situation led to “significant” fatalities at the mosques during Friday prayers. Police said a fourth person was arrested Friday but that was “not related to these events.”
Police are still trying to determine how the other two who were taken into custody are linked to the shooting.
Of the 49 killed, 41 victims were at Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue, seven were at a mosque on Linwood Avenue and another died at Christchurch Hospital, commissioner Mike Bush said at a news conference. Police said 48 people were being treated in hospital.
“We have had no threats since we responded to this incident,” Bush said.
Police are not actively looking for any identified persons, but he said it would be “wrong to assume that there is no one else.”
Bush added that no agency in either New Zealand or Australia had any information on the suspects before the incident.
He also shed light on reports of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — police initially suggested they had been attached to two vehicles.
Bush clarified that there were possibly two devices on a single vehicle.
“We’ve disabled one and we’re in the process of disabling the other,” he said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand’s national security threat level was lifted from low to high.
She also said none of the people in custody were on security watch lists.
Police are not ruling out more arrests, she added.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the people taken into custody was an Australian citizen.
Australia stands with New Zealand “during this dark time where hate and violence has stolen their peace and innocence,” he said.
Both Ardern and Morrison characterized the incident as a terrorist attack. Bush didn’t describe it the same way.
“We’re looking at the circumstances around that,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Bush asked that anyone who was thinking of heading to a mosque across New Zealand “not to go.”
Police also advised mosques across the country to “shut their doors and advise that people refrain from visiting these premises until further notice.”
The New Zealand Police tweeted that they’re aware of “extremely distressing footage” circulating online that’s related to the Christchurch incident.
“We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed,” they said.
“This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” Ardern said in a separate news conference.
“Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here,” she added.
“They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home.
“They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand. There is no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence, which it is clear this act was.”
In a statement, Muslims Australia, an organization that represents Islamic councils and societies, encouraged all mosques and places of prayer to be “extra vigilant and for members of the Muslim community to be particularly mindful of their safety in the coming days.”
Describing the incident as a massacre, the statement said it was a “product of the ever-increasing Islamophobia and marginalization of Muslims and is a reminder to all concerned, including political leaders and media commentators, of the horrific consequences that an atmosphere of hate and division can lead to.”
Len Peneha, a witness at the Al Noor mosque, said he saw a man enter the building dressed in black and that he then heard dozens of shots.
People then ran from the mosque.
The gunman, he said, fled before emergency services showed up.
“I saw dead people everywhere,” Peneha said.
The NZ Herald reported early on that a dead body was seen lying near a mosque close to Hagley Park in the city’s central area.
ESPN cricket reporter Mohammad Isam tweeted that a team from Bangladesh “escaped from a mosque near Hagley Park where there were active shooters.”
All members of the team were safe, their coach told media.
WATCH: ESPN reporter tweets video of Bangladesh national cricket team fleeing Christchurch, NZ mosque shooting
Bangladesh Cricket later confirmed that all team members were safely back in their hotel.
Squad member Tamim Iqbal Khan tweeted that the “entire team got saved from active shooters.”
There were six Indonesians at the Al Noor mosque when the shooting started — three escaped, and the country is still trying to locate its three other citizens, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said.
There are 330 Indonesian citizens in Christchurch, and 130 of them are students.
“The government and the people of Indonesia convey deep condolences to the victims and their families,” the government said in a statement.
Meanwhile, police carried out a controlled explosion at Britomart Train Station in Auckland after two abandoned backpacks were found there, the NZ Herald reported.
The train station wasn’t evacuated, however.
Bush said police don’t believe there was a threat there.
Nearly 50 patients were treated for gunshot wounds at Christchurch Hospital, with injuries ranging from critical to minor, said a statement from the Canterbury District Health Board.
Victims were being treated in 12 operating theatres, and a number of them will need numerous surgeries.
There were approximately 200 family members at the hospital, waiting on news about their loved ones.
The shootings are reverberating right across the Pacific Ocean into the United States, where the NYPD and LAPD announced plans to increase security at the cities’ mosques.
Bush said he was aware that a name connected to the shooting was being “circulated in the public domain,” but he said it would be “improper for me now to confirm because a person has been charged.”
—With reports from Reuters and the Associated Press
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