Christcurch: Forty people were killed and more than 20 seriously wounded in mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand’s Christchurch on Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. Ardern said New Zealand had been placed on its highest security threat level. She said four people in police custody held extremist views, but had not been on any police watchlists.
Ardern said the country has suffered one of its worst mass shootings after attacks at two mosques in the South Island city of Christchurch left an unknown number of people dead and injured.
“It is clear this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” Ardern told reporters on Friday. “What has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence. It has no place in New Zealand. This is not who we are.”
Police said they have arrested three men and a woman, and while they don’t think there are any armed offenders still at large, they can’t be sure the danger has passed or the incident is confined to Christchurch.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush declined to comment on whether it was an act of terrorism but said the situation was unprecedented in New Zealand. He said a number of home-made bombs were found attached to vehicles that police stopped.
“They’ve been made safe by the defense force but that does go to the seriousness of the situation,” Bush told a news conference.
Police have asked all mosques nationally to shut their doors and advised people to refrain from visiting them until further notice. Christchurch schools were put in lockdown for several hours and residents told to stay off the streets. The city of about 390,000 is still recovering from a 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people and destroyed the central business district.
Armed police were deployed after shots were fired at a mosque around 1:40 p.m. local time. One alleged shooter live-streamed part of the attack and posted a manifesto online, suggesting a racially motivated act of terrorism. In a rambling document that’s dozens of pages long, he says he was inspired by Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who was responsible for the deaths of 77 people in 2011.
Facebook removed a video and also suspended the suspected shooter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts after police alerted the company, it said on its official Twitter feed. Radio New Zealand said an eyewitness saw a man wearing a helmet and glasses and a military style jacket open fire inside one of the mosques. One person saw four people lying on the ground and said “there was blood everywhere,” RNZ reported.
National carrier Air New Zealand said it has cancelled flights out of Christchurch on smaller aircraft because it is not possible to screen departing passengers and their baggage.
Members of the touring Bangladesh cricket team were reportedly among those fleeing one of the mosques after their bus drove past the scene and was stopped by police. The test match they were scheduled to play against New Zealand tomorrow has been called off.
Muslims account for just over 1 per cent of New Zealand’s population, a 2013 census showed.