At least 49 people have been killed and 20 seriously injured after gunmen opened firein two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch Friday, a coordinated and unprecedented attack that has shocked the usually peaceful nation.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the incident a terrorist attack in a Friday press conference, saying the suspects held “extremist views” that have no place in New Zealand or the world.
Forty-one people were killed at the al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue, New Zealand’s Police Commissioner Mike Bush said Friday evening local time. Seven people died at the Linwood mosque on Linwood Avenue, and one person died from their injuries in hospital.
Both mosques are in Christchurch’s city center and police have placed the two locations on lockdown.
A total of 48 patients, including young children with gunshot wounds, have been admitted to Christchurch hospital for treatment.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said four people have been taken into custody — three men and one woman. Police do not believe there are any other suspects but said it was still an open investigation.
Bush said that a male in his late 20s has been charged with murder and will appear at the Christchurch court Saturday morning local time.
One of the four apprehended at the scene was in possession of firearms but police said they may have had nothing to do with incident. Two others were also arrested in possession of firearms and police are still trying to understand their involvement, Bush said. None of the four had been on any security watch lists prior to the attack.
Two improvised explosive devices were attached to a vehicle as part of the attack. One device has been disabled and authorities are working on the other.
“This goes to the seriousness of the situation,” Bush said.
A number of weapons were also recovered at both the Linwood and Dean Avenue locations.
Police were still treating the incident as ongoing into Friday evening local time and urged Christchurch residents to stay indoors and monitor the police website and social media.
The situation was also considered as not limited to Christchurch and Bush asked “anyone who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand today not to go. To close your doors until you hear from us again,” he said.
In a press conference, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the attack as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
“What has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” she said, adding that the attackers have “no place in New Zealand.”
“For now my thoughts and I’m sure the thoughts of all New Zealanders are with those who have been affected their families,” she said.
Police said they have mobilized every national police resource to respond to the incident.
Armed police were deployed after first receiving reports of the shootings at 1:40 p.m. Friday local time. It is the busiest day for many mosques around the world when Muslims convene for Friday prayers.
Speaking to CNN, witness Mohan Ibn Ibrahim said he was inside the mosque when the shooting began and that he heard the gunman “continuously shooting for ten to 15 minutes.”
“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.
“I came to the street I saw one person got shot on his chest,” he said, adding that the ambulance and police then arrived on the scene.
He said that he had a friend in another mosque in the area had told him a gunman had opened fire there as well and five people were dead.
“I could not contact two of my friends who are in the mosque as well,” he said.
One witness, who did not want to be named, said he was driving by the scene and saw a man with a “with his 3 or 4-year-old daughter” who had been shot in the back.
“He was screaming like get her to the hospital and the ambulance couldn’t come in until it was secured so I just got my truck and loaded up him, and his daughter, and this other guy had been shot in the leg, and took them to the hospital,” he said.
One man outside the mosque said that he prayed that the gunman would “run out of bullets.”
“I was thinking that he must run out bullets you know, so what I did was basically waiting and praying to God, oh God please let this guy run out of bullets,” he said. He said a man told him to remain still when the gunman shot the man “straight in the chest.”
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