–Premier Jacinda Ardern says ‘this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days’, raises national security threat level from low to high
–Shooter identified as 28-year-old white Australian named Brenton Tarrant live-streamed terror attack on FB
–A 2018 Global Terrorism Index report says number of killings motivated by far-right ideology increased from three in 2014 to 17 in 2017
CHRISTCHURCH: At least 49 people were killed and 20 injured in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday when at least one gunman opened fire on worshippers in two separate mosques.
The attack, which came around the time people were attending the mosques for Friday prayers, was the deadliest in the western nation’s history.
One mosque attendee told CNN the gunman, dressed in a military-style, camouflage outfit and carrying an automatic rifle, fired for “10 to 15 minutes” taking aim at more than 200 people.
Thirty fatalities occurred at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch. Seven of the dead were inside the suburban Linwood Masjid Mosque and three died outside the same mosque.
New Zealand police said they have taken into custody three men and a woman over the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that one of the four people taken into custody in New Zealand’s mosque shootings is an Australian.
The reported shooter, Brenton Tarrant, who claimed responsibility for the shootings said in a manifesto that he was a 28-year-old white Australian who came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the attack. Tarrant live-streamed his rampage to Facebook from a head-mounted camera.
Two IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were also found and neutralised by the military, police said. He said one of those detained was later released, while officers were working to determine if the other two were involved.
One unnamed survivor told TV New Zealand he saw the gunman shoot a man directly in the chest. The attacker reportedly targeted the men’s prayer room in the mosque, then moved to the women’s room.
“What I did was basically just waiting and praying, God please, let this guy run out of bullets,” the witness said. “He came to this side, he shot this side, he went to another room and went to the ladies’ section and shot them. I just heard one of the ladies has died.”
A Palestinian man who asked not to be named told AFP he heard rapid gunfire and saw a man shot in the head.
“I heard three quick shots, then after about 10 seconds it started again – it must have been an automatic, no one could pull a trigger that quick,” he said. “Then people started running out. Some were covered in blood.”
NZ PM SAYS IT IS DARKEST DAY:
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the national security threat level has been lifted from low to high after what appears to have been a well-planned “terrorist attack.” deadly shootings at two mosques.
The security threat level is now at the second-highest level. She said authorities had no reason to believe there were more suspects, but “we are not assuming that at this stage.”
“This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” said Ardern. “Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”
CITY ON LOCKDOWN:
People in the centre of the city should stay indoors, police said. All Christchurch schools and council buildings have been placed into lockdown.
Central city buildings, including the Civic Offices and Central Library, were also locked down. The city council offered a helpline for parents looking for kids attending a mass climate change rally nearby.
“Please do not try and come and collect your children until police say it is safe for people to come into the central city,” they said.
Radio New Zealand quoted a witness inside the Al Noor mosque saying he heard shots fired and at least four people were lying on the ground and “there was blood everywhere”.
“Horrified to hear of Christchurch mosque shootings. There is never a justification for that sort of hatred,” said Amy Adams, a member of parliament from Christchurch.
According to a Bloomberg report, importantly, the number of incidents of violence perpetrated by the far right is on the rise. The Institute for Economics and Peace noted in its 2018 Global Terrorism Index report that the number of such killings increased from three in 2014 to 17 in 2017.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Muslim leaders blamed rising Islamophobia in West for the Christchurch shooting.
“I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11 (where) 1.3 billion Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror,” Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote on social media.
I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11 where Islam & 1.3 bn Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror by a Muslim. This has been done deliberately to also demonize legitimate Muslim political struggles. https://t.co/5bBREoayLz
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) March 15, 2019
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the deadly attack on the mosques, describing them as “the latest example of rising racism and Islamophobia.”
“With this attack, hostility towards Islam, that the world has been idly watching and even encouraging for some time, has gone beyond individual harassment to reach the level of mass killing,” Erdogan said at the funeral of a former Turkish minister.
“It is clear that the understanding represented by the killer that also targets our country, our people and myself, has started to take over Western societies like a cancer.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated “the urgency of working better together globally to counter Islamophobia and eliminate intolerance and violent extremism in all its forms,” a spokesman said.
BANGLADESH- NEW ZEALAND MATCH CANCELLED:
The Bangladesh cricket team was in Christchurch to play New Zealand in a third cricket test starting on Saturday, however that has been cancelled in the wake of the shootings.
The team was arriving for prayers when the shooting occurred but all members were safe, a team coach told Reuters.
“They were on the bus, which was just pulling up to the mosque when the shooting begun,” Mario Villavarayen, strength and conditioning coach of the Bangladesh cricket team, told Reuters in a message. “They are shaken but good.”
Bangladeshi cricketer Tamim Iqbal Khan said on Twitter: “Entire team got saved from active shooters!!!” “Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers,” he added.
Mushfiqar Rahim also took to social media and wrote, ” Alhamdulillah Allah save us today while shooting in Christchurch in the mosque…we r extremely lucky…never want to see these things happen again….pray for us.”
Muslims account for just over 1pc of New Zealand’s population, a 2013 census showed. “Many of those who would have been affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand,” Ardern said.
“They may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home and it is their home … they are us. The persons who have perpetuated this violence against us … have no place in New Zealand.”
Mass shootings are rare in New Zealand, which tightened its gun laws to restrict access to semi-automatic rifles in 1992, two years after a mentally disturbed man shot dead 13 people in the South Island town of Aramoana.
However, anyone over 16 can apply for a standard firearms licence after doing a safety course, which allows them to purchase and use a shotgun unsupervised.