The killer is an Australian extremist, authorities said, who apparently live streamed the attack on Facebook.
CHRISTCHURCH: Mass shootings at two mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers killed 49 people on what the prime minister called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” as authorities detained four people and defused explosive devices in what appeared to be a carefully planned attack.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence” and acknowledged many of those affected may be migrants and refugees. She said earlier Friday that migrants and refugees appeared to be most affected by the shootings. A man who claimed responsibility for the attack said he was a 28-year-old Australian and described anti-immigrant motives in a manifesto.
Eye witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the Masjid Al Noor mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.
He said he also saw the gunman flee before emergency services arrived.
Peneha – who lives next to the mosque – said he went into the building to try and help. “I saw dead people everywhere.”
One man in the mosque, with blood stains all over his clothes, said he hid under a bench as the shooting took place. He said about 50 people were inside the building.
Sam Clarke said some worshippers managed to escape through windows and doors but “many people had been hit, some as young as 16”.
About 10 to 15 people were seen outside the mosque, “some alive, some dead”, he said.
Farid Ahmed, a wheelchair-bound witness in Christchurch told Al Jazeera he was at the back of the mosque and heard the shooting for about seven minutes.
“I pushed myself at the back where my car was parked and I was behind the car. And from there I was hearing shooting after shooting,” he said.
“After about 10 minutes I thought the shooter has left. I pushed myself to get inside the mosque and it was unbelievable. I saw in the main room on the right-hand side more than 20 people, some of them dead, some screaming.
“I saw on the floor hundreds of bullet shells. I saw one guy trying to run out and he was shot dead.”
Ramzan Ali, a second witness in Christchurch, said he heard one of the women died.
“The mosque has segments you know, he shot inside, went to another room, shot there. There is the ladies section, he went and shot them. I just heard one of the ladies died, I am hoping that it is not true,” he said.
Tahir Nawaz of the International Muslim Association of New Zealand said they have decided to restrict activities at the mosques.
“The whole community is shocked. They would never have expected anything like this [to happen] in this peaceful country. As a result of that [the attack], we are restricting our activities in the mosque and we are trying to keep safety in our area.”
One of the gunmen shared a livestream of the attack on Facebook and posted content on Instagram. Facebook said it has taken down the video and was removing praise for the gunman.
“Police are aware there is extremely distressing footage relating to the incident in Christchurch circulating online,” a police statement said. “We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed.”
There were reports racist literature was left behind at the scene denouncing “invaders”.
Commissioner Bush said local police officers apprehended the four suspects. “There’s been some absolute acts of bravery,” he said without elaborating.
“I won’t assume there aren’t others but I don’t have any information to that effect,” Bush told a press conference.
He said a number of bombs were detected and neutralised on the attackers’ automobiles.
“There were a few reports of IEDs strapped to vehicles which we were able to secure,” he said, referring to improved explosive devices.
Asked by reporters whether police considered Friday’s carnage a “terrorist attack”, Bush said an investigation was under way.