At least one gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 20 during Friday prayers at two New Zealand mosques in the country’s worst ever mass shooting, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned as terrorism.
A gunman broadcast live footage on Facebook of the attack on one mosque in the city of Christchurch, mirroring the carnage played out in video games, after publishing a “manifesto” in which he denounced immigrants, calling them “invaders”.
New Zealand was placed on its highest security threat level, Ardern said, adding that four people taken into custody held extremist views but had not been on any police watchlists.
“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said, call this “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”.
Police said later three people were in custody and one man in his late 20s had been charged with murder. He will appear in court on Saturday.
The visiting Bangladesh cricket team was arriving for prayers at one of the mosques when the shooting started but all members were safe, a team coach told Reuters.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said 49 people had been killed in total.
The video footage widely circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, showed him driving to one mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people inside.
Worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, lay huddled on the floor, the video showed. Reuters was unable to confirm the authenticity of the footage.
One man who said he was at the Al Noor mosque told media the gunman was white, blond and wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest. The man burst into the mosque as worshippers were kneeling for prayers.
“He had a big gun … he came and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere,” said the man, Ahmad Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.
Forty-one people were killed at the Al Noor mosque, seven at a mosque in the Linwood neighborhood and one died in hospital, police said. Hospitals said children were among the victims.
Shortly before the attack began, an anonymous post on the discussion site 8chan, known for a wide range of content including hate speech, said the writer was going to “carry out an attack against the invaders” and included links to a Facebook live stream, in which the shooting appeared, and a manifesto.
The manifesto cited “white genocide”, a term typically used by racist groups to refer to immigration and the growth of minority populations, as his motivation.
The Facebook link directed users to the page of a user called brenton.tarrant.9.
A Twitter account with the handle @brentontarrant posted on Wednesday images of a rifle and other military gear decorated with names and messages connected to white nationalism. What looked like the same weapons appeared in the livestream of the mosque attack on Friday.