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New Zealand Christchurch mosque shootings: 49 dead; gunman held

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Dozens are dead after two mosques were attacked in Christchurch, New Zealand.
USA TODAY

At least 49 people were killed in shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch Friday in what appeared to be carefully planned “terrorist” attack that included a lengthy anti-immigrant manifesto and live streaming of the carnage.

More than 20 people were seriously wounded in the racist rampage.

One person, a self-proclaimed racist who described himself as a 28-year-old Australian, was arrested and charged with murder and two others were detained in what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

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

The Australian suspect, who claimed responsibility for the shootings, left a more than 70-page manifesto against immigrants and used a helmet-mounted camera to capture footage of the killings.

Australian police identified the suspect as Brenton Tarrant, a white male whose name was also used by the shooter in his 17-minute live video, the Herald reports. 

The video shows the gunman walking in the front door of the Al Noor mosque and opening fire. After three minutes, he returns to his vehicle for more ammunition and goes back into the mosque and opens fired again, according to the New Zealand Herald. It ends with him driving away from the scene at high speed.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed that video of the shooting had been circulating on social media. Facebook said it had taken down the gunman’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and was attempting to remove any copies of the video.

One unidentified survivor told TV New Zealand that the gunman, wearing black and carrying an semi-automatic weapon, appeared to target the men’s prayer rooms at the Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue first, opening fire on worshipers, before moving on to the women’s section.

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Another witness, Len Peneha, said a man dressed in black entered the mosque at about 1:45 p.m. Peneha heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque.

As the shooter fled the mosque, he dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in Peneha’s driveway. Peneha said he rushed to the the mosque to try to help.

“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said. “I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”

The attacks occurred the Al Noor mosque, where 41 people died, and the Linwood Islamic Center, where seven died. One person died in the hospital.

Syed Mazharuddin, a survivor at the Islamic Center, told the Herald that a young man who takes care of the mosque jumped on the gunman and took his weapon as he was opening fire on a group of elderly people sitting near the entrance.

“The hero tried to chase and he couldn’t find the trigger in the gun … he ran behind him but there were people waiting for him in the car and he fled,” Mazharuddin told the newspaper.

Police, who defused a number of improvised explosive devices found in one car nearby, said the second shooting occurred at the Linwood Masjid Mosque.

“Let’s not presume the danger is gone,” he said, adding that police had also defused a number of improvised explosive devices found on vehicles after the mosque shootings.

The attack, which occurred as people were attending Friday prayers, was the deadliest in the nation’s history since 1990, when David Gray killed 13 people before being shot and killed by police in the town of Aramoana.

In Washington, the White House issued a statement condemning the “vicious act of hate” and President Donald Trump expressed his condolences on Twitter.

“My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques,” Trump said. “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!”

Ardern called the killings “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”

She described the suspect as “having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world.”

Sky News described people in the suspect’s Australian hometown of Grafton as  shocked, with many calling him a polite and well-mannered. Tarrant reportedly set off on a seven-year-trip around the world in 2010 after his father died. 

Ardern said that authorities did not have any reason to believe there are other suspects, but were not assuming that, and that the national security threat level was lifted from low to high.

She said many of the people affected by the atrocity were immigrants who “were parts of communities that they loved and who loved them in return.”

She voiced “the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people who did this. You may have chosen us – we utterly reject and condemn you.”

Iman Atta of Tell MAMA, a British organization that supports victims of anti-Muslim prejudice, said in a statement: “Anti-Muslim hatred is fast becoming a global issue and a binding factor for extremist far right groups and individuals. It is a threat that needs to be taken seriously.”

Contributing: Mike James, Jane Onyanga-Omara; The Associated Press

 

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/03/15/new-zealand-mosque-shooting-police-critical-incident/3172048002/




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