40 killed in Christchurch mosque shooting; narrow escape for Bangla cricketers

NZ PM Jacinda Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented "an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence"

By AP in Wellington
  • Published 15.03.19, 11:35 AM
  • Updated 15.03.19, 2:42 PM
  • 4 mins read
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Ambulance staff take a man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP)

Mass shootings at two mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers killed 40 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.

The Bangladesh cricket team escaped the Christchurch mosque near Hagley Park where the mass shooting took place.

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. In addition to the dead, she said more than 20 people were seriously wounded.

"It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack," Ardern said.

Police took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation of 5 million people.

Authorities have not elaborated on who they detained. But a man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for his actions. He said he was a 28-year-old white Australian.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the four people arrested was an Australian-born citizen.

Ardern at a news conference alluded to anti-immigrant sentiment as the possible motive, saying that while many people affected by the shootings may be migrants or refugees "they have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not."

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police were not aware of other suspects beyond the four who were detained but they couldn't be certain.

"The attackers were apprehended by local police staff. There have been some absolute acts of bravery," Bush said. "I'm hugely proud of our police staff, the way they responded to this. But let's not presume the danger is gone."

Bush said the defense force had defused a number of improvised explosive devices that were attached to vehicles stopped after the attacks.

He said anybody who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand on Friday should stay put.

The deadliest attack occurred at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch at about 1:45 p.m. Arden said 30 people were killed there.

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.

An international cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh has been canceled after players from the visiting team narrowly avoided a mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch on Friday.

New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White said there had been a "joint decision" to call off the third test, which had been scheduled to start Saturday in Christchurch.

"On behalf of New Zealand Cricket heartfelt condolences to those affected," White said. "I've spoken to my counterpart at Bangladesh cricket - we agree it's inappropriate to play cricket at this time.

"Both teams are deeply affected.

"We are shocked and appalled as I am sure all New Zealanders are. We are offering support to all those within the teams affected by the situation and are continuing to take advice from authorities on the ground."

Earlier, members of the Bangladesh cricket team described on social media how they narrowly avoided the mosque shooting on New Zealand's South Island.

Players and members of the team's coaching staff were reportedly on their bus, approaching the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Hagley Park when the shooting started.

Opening batsman Tamim Iqbal tweeted: "entire team got saved from active shooters. Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers."

There was a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque that Ardern said killed 10 people.

Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer-goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.

Nichols said he saw two injured people being carried out on stretchers past his automotive shop and that both people appeared to be alive.

The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting said he came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the attack. He said he was not a member of any organization, but had donated to and interacted with many nationalist groups, though he acted alone and no group ordered the attack.

He said the mosques in Christchurch and Linwood would be the targets, as would a third mosque in the town of Ashburton if he could make it there.

He said he chose New Zealand because of its location, to show that even the most remote parts of the world were not free of "mass immigration."

New Zealand is generally considered to be a welcoming country for immigrants and refugees. Last year, the prime minister announced the country would boost its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 starting in 2020. Ardern, whose party campaigned on the promise of raising the intake of refugees, dubbed the planned increase "the right thing to do."

A cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh scheduled to start Saturday was canceled after the Bangladesh cricket team had a narrow escape.

Players and members of the team's coaching staff were reportedly on their bus, approaching the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Hagley Park when the shooting broke out.

Batsman Tamim Iqbal tweeted "entire team got saved from active shooters. Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers."

Mass shootings in New Zealand are exceedingly rare. The deadliest in modern history occurred in the small town of Aramoana in 1990, when gunman David Gray shot and killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbor.