At least 49 people are dead and dozens are injured after a gunman opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday morning. It appears to be a carefully planned racist attack. Police say they also found and defused an unspecified number of explosives, and the Australian suspect is in custody.
• An Australian man in his late 20s has been charged with murder
• Three other people, two men and a woman, are in custody and police are investigating their involvement in the attack
New Zealand police said 41 people were killed at Al Noor Mosque, which is in the center of the city, then seven more were fatally shot about three miles away at a mosque in Linwood, a suburb about three miles away. Another person died at the hospital.
The attack on Al Noor mosque began at about 1:45 p.m., where people were gathered for Friday prayers. Police say the shooter broadcast the shooting on Facebook Live. The AP has a description of the 17-minute video:
A video that was apparently livestreamed by the shooter shows the attack in horrifying detail. The gunman spends more than two minutes inside the mosque spraying terrified worshippers with bullets again and again, sometimes re-firing at people he has already cut down.
He then walks outside to the street, where he shoots at people on the sidewalk. Children’s screams can be heard in the distance as he returns to his car to get another rifle.
The gunman then walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground. After walking back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where the song “Fire” by English rock band “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown” can be heard blasting from the speakers. The singer bellows, “I am the god of hellfire!” and the gunman drives away. The video then cuts out.
Len Peneha, who lives next to the mosque, told the AP that he saw a man dressed in black military-type gear enter the building. He then heard dozens of shots and saw people fleeing the building. Peneha said he saw the gunman run out of the mosque, dropping what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway. Peneha then entered the mosque, and brought five survivors back to his home.
“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said. “I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”
Local health officials said 48 people were being treated at Christchurch Hospital for gunshot wounds, and some would require multiple surgeries. About 200 family members are gathered at the hospital awaiting news.
Many are still trying to locate their loved ones, the New Zealand Heraldreported. “I just want to know he’s safe, and I’m praying and hoping that he will call,” Azila Rahmad said, referring to her husband.
The alleged shooter and his motives
A 28-year-old white Australian man has been arrested and charged with murder in the attack. He is expected to appear in court on Saturday morning. Officials said he had not appeared on any security watch lists.
Authorities have not released the shooter’s name. But early reports indicate that he left behind a rambling white supremacist manifesto that cites Anders Breivik as an influence. In 2011, Breivik, also a white supremacist, shot and killed 77 young adults who were attending a Workers’ Youth League camp in Norway; since then, his actions and manifesto appear to have become a touchstone for other white supremacists committed to mass violence. Christopher Hasson, the U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant arrested for plotting the targeted killings of several left-wing politicians and journalists, also cited Breivik in his own correspondence.
According to the AP, the shooter said he came to New Zealand just to train for the attack, and he selected the location to show that no part of the world is free from “mass immigration.” He said that he planned to kill more people at a mosque in Ashburton, if he could make it there after targeting Christchurch and Linwood. He said that while he’d interacted with many white nationalist groups in the past, he was acting on his own.
White supremacist violence is on the rise in the U.S., but Friday’s tragedy is unusual for New Zealand, a country with a low murder rate and a population of just under 5 million.
In 2017 there were 48 homicides in New Zealand. There have been 49 so far today.
BREAKING: New Zealand mosque attacks toll rises to 49 dead
New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacina Ardern, announced last year that the country would increase its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 in 2020. Her party had campaigned on raising the number of refugees welcomed into the country.
Police arrested three men and a woman after the attack, but later said one of the arrests was not related to the shooting. Prime Minister Ardern said of the suspects, “these are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand.”
Though New Zealand authorities said they have no reason to believe there are any other suspects, the national threat level has been raised to “high,” the second-highest level, for the first time. Air New Zealand canceled at least 17 flights, saying they did not have the resources to properly screen passengers after the shootings.
Two homes in Dunedin, about 220 miles south of Christchurch, were evacuated around what police called a “location of interest,” according to the Associated Press.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern flew to Christchurch following a press conference. “They are us,” she said of the Muslims targeted by the shooter. “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.”
At least one right-wing senator in the shooter’s home country, however, disagreed. Australian senator Fraser Anning said that while he was opposed to violence, the shooter’s actions “highlighted the growing fear within our community, both in Australia and New Zealand, of the increasing Muslim presence.”