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At least 49 people killed in shootings at New Zealand mosques

Key Points
  • Authorities said there had been two shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday.
  • "This is one of New Zealand's darkest days," said the country's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. "Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence."
  • New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush earlier said that four people had been taken into custody, three men and one woman.
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49 people killed in shootings at New Zealand mosques

At least 49 people were killed and more than 40 people are being treated for injuries after at least one shooter opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday, according to New Zealand police.

Two of those injured are in critical condition, one of which is a 5-year-old child who is being transported to Starship Hospital.

Police are still working to confirm the identities of those who have died, according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said earlier that four individuals were taken into police custody, three men and one woman.

A 28-year-old Australian man who was charged with murder was remanded without plea until his next appearance in court on April 5, while two others remain in police custody. NBC's Australian subsidiary, Channel 7, say police sources have named one of the suspects as Brenton Tarrant.

The charged individual "traveled sporadically to New Zealand and stayed for varied amount of time," but was not a resident of Christchurch, Ardern said in a statement.

Police are still investigating whether the two other individuals were directly involved in the shooting.

The fourth individual arrested yesterday was a member of the public who was in possession of a firearm with the intention of assisting police. This individual has since been released.

None of those apprehended had a criminal history in New Zealand or in Australia, nor were they on any watch-lists in either country.

The perpetrator used a total of five fire arms: two semi-automatic weapons, two shotguns and a lever-action firearm. The individual was in possession of a gun licence acquired in November 2017.

As of 5:47 p.m. local time (12:47 a.m. ET), authorities said a lockdown of local schools had been lifted.

Bush said several explosives had been attached to vehicles. He added that there is no assumption the attack was contained to Christchurch.

Bush said in a statement Friday police investigations are in the early stages and they "will be looking closely to build a picture of any of the individuals involved and all of their activities prior to this horrific event."

He said there would be "heightened police presence at community events today for safety and reassurance."

Forty-five additional police staff have been flown in to Christchurch and eighty more will be arriving later today.

Ambulance staff take a man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019.
Mark Baker | AP

The gunman live-streamed the attack online, which has since been taken down by social media platforms. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter continue to struggle to take down other versions of the videos that have been put up by other users.

In a "manifesto" the gunman published online, he denounced immigrants and called them "invaders." In the manifesto, the gunman praised Trump calling him "a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose."

"This is one of New Zealand's darkest days," said the country's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. "Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence."

"It is clear that this can only be described as a terrorist attack," the prime minister said, according to a transcript of her address.

Ardernlater stated that in light of this event, the country's gun laws will have to change.

Funerals were planned on Saturday for some of the victims, according to Reuters.

President Donald Trump put out a statement on Twitter condemning the "horrible massacre," saying that "the U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do."

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen released a statement expressing her condolences for those affected by the attacks and reassured Americans that "the Department of Homeland Security is doing all it can to protect the homeland from violent extremists."

Nielsen also stated that DHS is not aware of any "credible or active threat domestically, nor of any current information regarding obvious ties between the perpetrators in New Zealand and anyone in the US," but that they will continue to monitor the situation.

President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Theresa May and Prime Minister Scott Morrison also put out statements of support on twitter, sending their condolences to the people of New Zealand.

Witnesses told media that a man dressed in a military-style, camouflage outfit and carrying an automatic rifle had started randomly shooting people in the Al Noor mosque.

Two Malaysians were injured in the attack, and three Indonesians survived the shooting while three more are unaccounted for, according to reports.

The commissioner said police had been dealing with two shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, one at Deans Avenue and one at Linwood Avenue. "Those locations remain locked down," he said in a statement published at 6:06 p.m. local time.

AOS (Armed Offenders Squad) push back members of the public following a shooting at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch.
Martin Hunter | Reuters

"Police are still treating this incident as ongoing and Christchurch residents are strongly urged to stay indoors and keep safe, and monitor the Police website and social media for further information. We continue to utilize every possible resource to resolve the situation," Bush said, adding that all mosques in the country had been asked to shut their doors.

Bush said he would not at this time "be discussing the offenders' possible motivations or the causes of this incident."

The Bangladesh cricket team was in the vicinity of the shooting but all members were safe, a team coach told media.

Radio New Zealand quoted a witness inside the 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.

The Bangladesh cricket team is in Christchurch to play New Zealand in a third cricket test starting on Saturday.

Mario Villavarayen, strength and conditioning coach of the Bangladesh cricket team was quoted by the New Zealand Herald as saying that the team was close to where the shooting occurred, but was safe.

"The players are shaken up but fine," Villavarayen was quoted as saying.

—Reuters contributed to this report.