Coordinated terrorist shootings at New Zealand mosques leave 49 dead
Diederik van Heyningen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand) — At least 49 people were killed in a shooting attack on the southern island of New Zealand on Friday when a gunman opened fire inside two mosques.
The shootings in Christchurch, categorized as a terrorist attack, included 41 deaths at one mosque, according to authorities. Christchurch Hospital also confirmed it was treating 48 people for gunshot wounds, ranging from minor to critical. One person died at the hospital.
The gunman, who was dressed in tactical gear, appeared to livestream video of the shooting on social media, according to New Zealand police, documenting his trip from his vehicle and into the worship center in central Christchurch, where he opened fire indiscriminately.
“This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a press conference Friday afternoon.
Four people, three men and one woman, were taken into custody in the hours following the attack, but police have not released their identities. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed one of them was an Australian citizen. The man has been charged with murder and will appear in court Saturday, police said.
Police later said one of the four taken into custody had a firearm, but was not apparently connected. The other two continue to be investigated.
Ardern said the four people were not on any active terrorist watch lists and it was “not a matter of someone slipping under the radar.”
The shooter also opened fire in the surrounding area outside of the mosques. Police said they recovered two improvised explosive devices attached to vehicles in the area, but they were rendered safe.
“A serious and evolving situation is occurring in Christchurch with an active shooter. Police are responding with its full capability to manage the situation, but the risk environment remains extremely high,” New Zealand Police tweeted. “Police recommend that residents across Christchurch remain off the streets and indoors until further notice.”
A spokesperson for the Canterbury District Health Board said it activated its mass casualty plan, putting public locations in the area on lockdown.
“Christchurch schools will be locked down until further notice,” the police department tweeted. “Police thanks the public for their cooperation and will provide further updates to keep residents informed.”
Those lockdowns were lifted several hours after the attack ended.
Arden made reference to the nationalities of the victims, saying, “Many of those directly involved might be immigrants, refugees who chose to be here. They are us. The person who has done this, is not.”
Morrison described the shootings as having been perpetrated by an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist, that has taken the lives — stolen the lives — in a vicious, murderous attack that has claimed so many New Zealanders.”
Police said shots were fired in at least two mosque locations. Residents were urged to stay off the streets and to avoid all mosques until further notice.
“Again we are unsure if there are any other locations outside of that area that are under threat,” police said. “I want to ask anyone that 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.”
Officials said they were working to remove “extremely distressing footage” taken at the scene and urged social media users not to share it.
“Police are aware there is extremely distressing footage relating to the incident in Christchurch circulating online,” police said in a tweet. “We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed.”
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