March 15 (UPI) — Shooting attacks at two Christchurch mosques Friday killed 49 people and seriously injured at least 20 others in what New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden called a well-planned “terrorist attack.”
The shooting started at about 1:30 p.m. Friday at the mosques, where hundreds had gathered for prayers. Of the dead, 41 were killed at one mosque, seven at the other and one died at the hospital.
Ardern called Friday “one of New Zealand’s darkest,” and said the attack was “unprecedented,” well planned and ideologically motivated.
“You may have chosen us but we utterly reject and condemn you,” she said.
She added the majority of those affected are either migrants, immigrants or refugees, saying it can only be described as a “terrorist attack.”
“There are people who I would describe as having extremist views, that have absolutely no place in New Zealand,” she added.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said a man in his late 20s has been charged with murder. He is to appear before the Christchurch court Saturday morning.
Three other people — two men and a woman — have also been arrested. Bush said all three were in the possession of firearms at the time of their arrest. At least one, though, is not believed to have had anything to do with the shooting. One is an Australian citizen.
“The two other people that have been apprehended, again in the possession of firearms in the general environment, we are working through to understand what their involvement is,” he said.
Social media posts police say were written by someone with prior knowledge of the shootings included an anti-Muslim manifesto and references to Internet radicalization, NBC News reported.
The 74-page document says the shooter was inspired by right-wing extremists in the United States — including Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in 2015. Police said the manifesto contains conspiracy theories and echoes white nationalism seen at protests that resulted in violence in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
The writer, purportedly the gunman, identified himself as a 28-year-old white man born in Australia and said his motivation involved defending “our lands” from “invaders” and ensuring “a future for white children.”
The White House and U.S. President Donald Trumprenounced the attacks Friday.
“My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques,” he tweeted. “49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!”
New Zealand’s National Security Threat has been raised from low to high for the first time in its history. Police are treating the situation as an ongoing investigation despite the face they’re not “actively looking” for any suspects, Bush said.
Two improvised explosive devices attached to a suspect’s vehicle were also discovered in the area. One was defused and the other was being evaluated, Bush said. He added a number of firearms were recovered from the two mosques.
“This was a very well planned event,” Bush said, adding that the attack may not be limited to Christchurch and urging people to not visit any of the nation’s mosques.
None of the four arrested had been on a national security watch list, Bush said, adding they were not known to Australian authorities either. Asked by journalists how they weren’t previously known, Bush said police will look at all evidence to make sure nothing was overlooked.
“This is requiring every police and emergency resource that we have available,” he said.
“Many of those who would have been directly affected by the shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here,” Arden told reporters. “They have chosen to make New Zealand their home and it is their home. They are us. The person who perpetrated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand.”
Police there was video of the attack circulating online and police were attempting to have the footage removed. Facebook New Zealand spokesman Mia Garlick later said the video was removed and posts praising or supporting the crimes was being deleted.
“Police alerted us to a video on Facebook shortly after the livestream commenced and we quickly removed both the shooter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and the video,” she said.
“I never could believe that something like this would ever happen in the city of Christchurch, but actually I would never believe that this would ever happen in New Zealand, and it looks like the worst has happened,” Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said in a Facebook video.
Police departments in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco said extra precautions will be taken at mosques beginning Friday, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan offered condolences and reassurances to the city’s Muslim community.
“When the flames of hatred are fanned, when people are demonized because of their faith, when we play on people’s fears rather than addressing them, the consequences are deadly, as we have seen so sadly today,” he tweeted.
Security at other religious sites around the world, including Pakistan, is also being increased.
A cricket match scheduled for Saturday in Christchurch between the Black Caps, New Zealand’s national cricket team, and the Bangladesh national team has been postponed, the Black Caps said on Twitter.
Players from the Bangladesh team were filmed escaping through a park near one of the mosques where the shooting took place. Tamin Iqbal Khan, a Bangladeshi cricket player, tweeted that the team was safe.