Saturday 23 March 2019

'Hello, lads' - killer's chilling greeting in 17 minutes of pure terror at New Zealand mosques

  • 49 people killed, 39 people remain in hospital following terror attack

  • Girl (4), boys (13 and 2) among those in critical condition

  • Suspect in at least one of the shootings makes brief appearance in court

  • World leaders express solidarity with the people of New Zealand

Brenton Tarrant (face obscured) arrives in Christchurch court to face a charge of murder. Photo: Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald/Pool via Reuters
Brenton Tarrant (face obscured) arrives in Christchurch court to face a charge of murder. Photo: Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald/Pool via Reuters
A man places flowers at a makeshift memorial near the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, (Mark Baker/AP)
Police stand by makeshift memorial near the Linwood Mosque in Christchurch (Mark Baker/AP)
Tearful tribute: Locals lay flowers in tribute to those killed and injured at the Al Noor Mosque. Photo: Getty
Attack: A still from the live stream of the massacre shows Tarrant holding a gun as he enters the mosque. Photo: Social Media Website/Handout via Reuters
Christchurch mosque shootings graphic
Carnage: Ambulance personnel evacuate a wounded man. Photo: Mark Baker/AP Photo
Worried friends and relatives wait outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo: Mark Baker/AP
A police officer patrols at a cordon near a mosque in central Christchurch (Mark Baker/AP)
Aftermath: Armed police patrol outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo: Mark Baker/AP

Patrick Sawyer

You could hear a pin drop as the faithful settled down to hear the Imam's sermon. Then came the deafening crack of gunfire.

Seconds later panic spread through Christchurch's Al Noor mosque as those inside realised what was happening and tried desperately to flee or find shelter from the bullets.

By the time the carnage ended, 41 people lay dead, with seven more killed at an Islamic centre a few miles away. A 49th victim died in hospital, where another 48 were being treated, many for gunshot wounds.

As New Zealanders tried to come to terms with the dreadful events they had witnessed, Jacinda Ardern, their prime minister, described it as one of the country's "darkest days".

Western leaders from Donald Trump to Angela Merkel expressed solidarity with the people of New Zealand, deploring what the White House called a "vicious act of hate".

Pope Francis called the attacks "senseless acts of violence".

White supremacist: Brenton Tarrant pictured in Pakistan 2018
White supremacist: Brenton Tarrant pictured in Pakistan 2018

It had started routinely enough, with 300 people attending Friday prayers inside the Al Noor mosque, located close to the city's Hagley Park.

Farid Ahmed, who was among the congregation, would later describe it as "peaceful, calm and quiet. As it is when the sermon starts, you could hear a pin drop".

But at 1.40pm, gunfire broke out.

"It started in the main room," said Mr Ahmed. "I was in the side room, so I didn't see who was shooting, but I saw that some people were running out to my room where I was in; I saw some people had blood on their body and some people were limping. It was at [that] moment I realised things were really serious."

A distraught survivor reacts as he speaks on a mobile phone near the mosque in central Christchurch. Photo: Mark Baker/AP Photo
A distraught survivor reacts as he speaks on a mobile phone near the mosque in central Christchurch. Photo: Mark Baker/AP Photo

It became apparent that a gunman was making his way from room to room, shooting at anyone he saw, starting with the men's prayer room before moving to the women's section. Mr Ahmed said the shooting went on "for six minutes or more".

"I could hear screaming and crying, I saw some people drop dead, some people were running away; I was in a wheelchair, so I couldn't get anywhere."

After the shooting ended, Mr Ahmed managed to push himself in his wheelchair into the main part of the mosque, desperately trying to find his wife and to help others.

"To the right, I saw about 20-plus people; some were dead, some were screaming. On the left there were 10-plus people; some were dead," he said. "I saw the bullet shells on the floor, so many hundreds."

Christchurch mosque shootings graphic
Christchurch mosque shootings graphic

Another worshipper, who hid underneath a bench, described how the gunman calmly reloaded at least seven times before targeting those fleeing.

"Bang, bang, bang; then when the bullets stop he [would] change the magazine again," said Mr Ahmed.

Mohan Ibrahim was inside the mosque when he heard shots, mistaking them for a short-circuit in the building's lighting system.

"At first we thought it was an electric shock but then all these people started running. I realised it was a gun shooting," he said. "I managed to get out. It was like 10 to 15 minutes of continuous shooting. He was changing his gun. I cannot forget the sound of shooting and scenery I saw with my eyes. Innocent people have just died."

Len Peneha, who lives near the mosque, had watched in horror from outside as the gunman, dressed in black, entered.

Carnage: Ambulance personnel evacuate a wounded man. Photo: Mark Baker/AP Photo
Carnage: Ambulance personnel evacuate a wounded man. Photo: Mark Baker/AP Photo

He then heard dozens of shots, followed by people fleeing the building in terror, many of them barefoot, having taken off their shoes before going in, as is customary for Muslims.

As the gunman fled, Mr Peneha went inside to try to help the injured, taking five to his nearby home.

"I saw dead people everywhere," he said. "There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque.

Names written on ammunition seen in a photo posted on Twitter by the gunman. Photo: Twitter/via Reuters
Names written on ammunition seen in a photo posted on Twitter by the gunman. Photo: Twitter/via Reuters

"I don't understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. I've lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they're very friendly. I just don't understand it."

A short time after the massacre at the Al Noor mosque, the horror began again, as a gunman entered the Linwood Islamic Centre, a 10-minute drive away. Here, seven worshippers were killed when a gunman wearing a black motorcycle helmet opened fire on 100 people praying inside.

Mark Nichols, the manager of nearby Premium Tyres, reported seeing the attacker run past his shop before hearing five gunshots from the direction of the mosque. Moments later two of the injured people were carried past on stretchers.

"I've seen a guy with a gun running up the road. He's been firing about five shots," Mr Nichols said. "It might have been a shotgun. I didn't get a good look at it, I just cleared off."

The initial attack was streamed live on Facebook. The 17-minute video showed the man driving toward the Al Noor mosque with several high-powered rifles on the passenger seat of his silver Subaru. On them were written the names of Luca Traini, a far-Right Italian terrorist jailed for 12 years for shooting and wounding six African migrants in the city of Macerata last year, and Josue Estebanez, a Spanish former soldier who stabbed and killed a 16-year-old anti-fascist protester in Madrid in 2007.

Three minutes into the video, the attacker stops the car, directs the camera at himself and says "hello lads" before setting off again. Approaching the entrance of the mosque, the gunman begins firing indiscriminately. At one point a man runs toward him, only to be gunned down.

He emerges after several minutes and children's screams can be heard as he fires at the dead and dying outside, including a woman who stumbles into the street shouting for help.

Back in the car, he laughs and says the attack "did not go as planned... f***ing Christ", before driving away. 'Fire', by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, is playing from the car speakers, with the line "I am the god of hellfire."

Buildings in central Christchurch went into lockdown and around 3.15pm reports began to emerge of a bomb being found in a car parked in Strickland Street, about two miles south of the mosque. Police confirmed they were dealing with multiple, simultaneous attacks. A short time later, a man was arrested in Brougham Street, a dual carriageway running east-to-west through the city.

Nathan Cambus described how armed police chased a vehicle and forced it to stop: "They pulled three guns, maybe four, from the car and then they pulled the man out right over the handbrake... it was pretty scary."

As police began their investigation into New Zealand's worst mass shooting, it became apparent that the gunman - who before the rampage identified himself online as Brenton Tarrant, an Australian citizen - was a committed white supremacist inspired by the likes of Anders Breivik, the far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in attacks in Norway in July 2011.

On a now-deleted Twitter account, Tarrant posted a link to a 74-page "manifesto" quoting the Dylan Thomas poem 'Do not go gentle into that good night', and ranting about "white genocide". The 28-year-old from Grafton, in New South Wales, outlined his aim to "create an atmosphere of fear" and to "incite violence" against Muslims.

Yesterday, standing outside the Al Noor mosque, his clothes bloodstained from trying to help the wounded, was Noor Hamzah (54), who came to New Zealand from Malaysia in the 1980s.

"This is a disaster for New Zealand. A black day," he said.

What we know so far

- At least 41 people were killed at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch while at least seven people died inside the suburban Linwood Masjid Mosque. One person died in hospital. In all, a total of 49 people were killed in Friday's shootings.

- Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old from Australia, was charged with murder and appeared at a Christchurch court on Saturday morning. He was remanded until April 5. Police said further charges were expected to follow.

- Two others are in custody over the attacks and police are working to establish whether they had any involvement in the incident. A fourth person arrested on Friday, who was in possession of a firearm but with the intention of assisting police, was released a short time later.

- 39 people remained in the care of Christchurch Hospital on Saturday, 11 of them in intensive care.

- Four people died en route to the hospital.

- The majority of the patients were said to be male, aged between 30 and 40, while two of them are boys aged two and 13.

- A four-year-old girl was transferred to a hospital in Auckland in a critical condition.

- New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said children were among the victims.

- Ms Ardern also said the suspect held a Category A gun licence which enabled him to legally obtain semi-automatic weapons. She later said the firearms used in the mosque shootings appeared to have been modified. She said the country's gun laws would change in the wake of the attack.

- Tarrant appeared to have live-streamed the terror attack and outlined his anti-immigrant motives in a manifesto posted online.

- Social media firms were criticised over the speed of their action to remove the footage from their platforms.

- Two improvised explosive devices were found on a vehicle after the shootings and were defused by police.

- Police said they were not actively looking for any identified suspects but said "that doesn't mean they don't exist".

- Officers first received reports of shots fired in central Christchurch at about 1.40pm local time (12.40am GMT).

- All schools in Christchurch were put on lockdown and mosques told to shut their doors.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News