49 people have been killed and other 48 wounded in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the country’s deadliest attack.
New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern described it as a terrorist attack and one of the country’s “darkest days”.
A gunman identifying himself as an Australian live-streamed the rampage at Al Noor mosque to Facebook. He had espoused racist, anti-immigrant views.
According to police, a man in his late 20s has been arrested and charged with murder.
Two other men and one woman were also detained.
No names have been made public. Firearms and explosive devices were recovered, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.
The gunman live-streaming the attack from a head-mounted camera said he was a 28-year-old Australian called Brenton Tarrant. The footage showed him firing at men, women and children from close range inside the Al Noor mosque.
Facebook had removed the suspect’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and was working to remove any copies of the footage. The live-stream of the attack lasted for 17 minutes.
The suspect who was charged appeared to have published a document online outlining his intentions as well as details about the plan for the attack. He is due in court on March 16.
Australian PM Scott Morrison described the man as an “extremist, right-wing” terrorist. New Zealand Police Commissioner Bush confirmed that the man had not been known in advance to either New Zealand or Australian security services.
The first report of an attack came from the Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch at 13:40 on March 15.
A gunman drove to the front door, entered and fired indiscriminately for about five minutes.
One unnamed survivor told TV New Zealand that he had seen the gunman shoot a man in the chest. The attacker reportedly targeted the men’s prayer room in the mosque, then moved to the women’s room.
The gunman is then said to have driven about 3 miles to another mosque in the suburb of Linwood where the second shooting occurred.
One witness described how one of the worshippers had managed to disarm the man, who ran to a waiting car outside.
It is not clear where the arrests were made. Police also defused “a number of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] attached to vehicles”, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.
He said a number of firearms had been recovered from both mosques, and explosive devices were found in a car belonging to one of the suspects.
Authorities advised all mosques in Christchurch to shut down until further notice.
According to the latest census figures, Muslims make up about 1.1% of New Zealand’s population of 4.25 million.
Numbers rose sharply as New Zealand took in refugees from various war-torn countries since the 1990s.
Social media accounts in the name of Brenton Tarrant were used to post a lengthy, racist document in which the author identified the mosques that were later attacked.
The man says he began planning an attack after visiting Europe in 2017 and being angered by events there.
The document is called “The Great Replacement” – a phrase that originated in France and has become a rallying cry for European anti-immigration extremists.
Although New Zealand police said they had charged a man in his late 20s with murder, they did not identify the man.