Friday 22 March 2019

'The firing went on and on' - 49 killed as gunman attacks New Zealand mosques, films shootings on social media

  • 'One of New Zealand's darkest days' - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
  • Gunman identified as Brenton Tarrant (28) from Australia
  • Multiple fatalities occurred at two mosques believed to include women and children
  • The gunman burst into the mosque as worshippers were praying
  • President Higgins said the attacks were an attack on democratic values
Brenton Tarrant pictured in 2018
Brenton Tarrant pictured in 2018
Brenton Tarrant (top left) is the alleged shooter behind attacks on mosques in Christchurch, condemned as terrorism by NZ Prime Minister Jacinta Ardem (bottom left)
Police stand outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers, as New Zealand police warned people to stay indoors as they tried to determine if more than one gunman was involved. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
A view of the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue in Christchurch, New Zealand, taken in 2014. REUTERS/SNPA/Martin Hunter
A man reacts as he speaks on a mobile phone near a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers, as New Zealand police warned people to stay indoors as they tried to determine if more than one gunman was involved.(AP Photo/Mark Baker)
An injured person is loaded into an ambulance following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019.
Police escort witnesses away from a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers, as New Zealand police warned people to stay indoors as they tried to determine if more than one gunman was involved. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
AOS (Armed Offenders Squad) push back members of the public following a shooting at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand,, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/SNPA/Martin Hunter
Grieving members of the public following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks on live television following fatal shootings at two mosques in central Christchurch, New Zealand March 15, 2019, in this still image taken from video.
A police officer photographs witnesses near a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers, as New Zealand police warned people to stay indoors as they tried to determine if more than one gunman was involved. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Praveen Menon and Charlotte Greenfield

A GUNMAN shot dead 49 people and wounded more than 40 at two New Zealand mosques, some as they were kneeling at prayer, livestreaming online some of the killings that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned as terrorism.

The gunman broadcast footage of the attack on one mosque in the city of Christchurch on Facebook, mirroring the carnage played out in video games, after publishing a "manifesto" in which he denounced immigrants, calling them "invaders".

The video footage widely circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, showed him driving to one mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people inside.

Worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, lay huddled on the floor, the video showed. Reuters was unable to confirm the authenticity of the footage.

Brenton Tarrant (28) from Australia, was named in media reports in his home country as the gunman who appeared to have live-streamed the attack.

In a 74-page manifesto, believed to have been written by Tarrant, he describes anti-immigrant motives, saying the victims were a "large group of invaders" who he says "seek to occupy my peoples lands and ethnically replace my own people (sic)".

He said he was inspired by Norwegian shooter Anders Breivik.

The manifesto, posted online, features a series of questions and answers, and opens with one asking: "Who are you?"

The answer says: "Just a ordinary White man, 28 years old. Born in Australia to a working class, low income family.

"My parents are of Scottish, Irish and English stock. I had a regular childhood, without any great issues. I had little interest in education during my schooling, barely achieving a passing grade."

He adds: "I am just a regular White man, from a regular family. Who decided to take a stand to ensure a future for my people."

He describes himself as "a private and mostly introverted person" and admits he is racist, adding that he is an "Eco-fascist by nature".

It was the worst ever mass killing in New Zealand which raised its security threat level to the highest, Ardern said, adding that "this can now only be described as a terrorist attack".

Police said three people were in custody including one man in his late 20s who had been charged with murder. He will appear in court on Saturday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on March 15, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on March 15, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Police have not identified any of the suspects.

"We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are enclave for extremism," Ardern said in a national address. "We were chosen for the fact that we are none of these things. It was because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values.

"You have chosen us but we utterly reject and condemn you."

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said 49 people had been killed in total. Health authorities said 48 people were being treated for gunshot wounds, including young children.

The Irish President said the attacks were an attack on democratic values.

Michael D Higgins said: "The attacks on mosques in New Zealand will have appalled people all over the world.

"As President of Ireland may I offer the sympathy of the people of Ireland to the families of the victims, and express the solidarity of the people of Ireland with the people of New Zealand at this time.

"This attack on innocent lives at spaces of worship for a religious community will be condemned by all those who believe in freedom and democratic values.

"I have conveyed deepest sympathies on behalf of the Irish people to Prime Minister (Jacinda) Ardern and to Governor-General (Patsy) Reddy."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, speaking from the US, said that hatred would not triumph and that he would be contacting New Zealand's Prime Minister.

"New Zealand and its people are open, tolerant and welcoming. We join them today, united in our condemnation of this appalling attack and determined in our resolve that hate will not triumph," a statement said.

"I will be writing to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to express sincere sympathies and support. I would also like to pay tribute to the valiant work of Christchurch's emergency services."

US President Donald Trump condemned the "horrible massacre" in what the White House called a "vicious act of hate".

The gunman's manifesto praised Trump as "a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose". The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Police officers guard the area close to the Masjid al Noor mosque. Photo: TESSA BURROWS/AFP/Getty Images
Police officers guard the area close to the Masjid al Noor mosque. Photo: TESSA BURROWS/AFP/Getty Images

One man who said he was at the Al Noor mosque told media the gunman was white, blond and wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest. The man burst into the mosque as worshippers were kneeling for prayers.

"He had a big gun ... he came and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere," said the man, Ahmad Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.

Forty-one people were killed at the Al Noor mosque, seven at a mosque in the Linwood neighbourhood and one died in hospital, police said. Hospitals said children were among the victims.

The visiting Bangladesh cricket team was arriving for prayers at one of the mosques when the shooting started but all members were safe, a team coach told Reuters.

Three Bangladeshis were among the dead and one was missing, the consulate said.

Shortly before the attack began, an anonymous post on the discussion site 8chan, known for a wide range of content including hate speech, said the writer was going to “carry out an attack against the invaders” and included links to a Facebook live stream, in which the shooting appeared, and a manifesto.

The manifesto cited "white genocide", a term typically used by racist groups to refer to immigration and the growth of minority populations, as his motivation.

The Facebook link directed users to the page of a user called brenton.tarrant.9.

A Twitter account with the handle @brentontarrant posted on Wednesday images of a rifle and other military gear decorated with names and messages connected to white nationalism. What looked like the same weapons appeared in the livestream of the mosque attack on Friday.

Facebook and Twitter said they would take down content involving the shootings.

It was not immediately clear if the attacks at the two mosques were carried out by the same man.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said one of the men in custody was Australian.

All mosques in New Zealand had been asked to shut their doors and post armed guards, police said, adding they were not actively looking for any other "identified suspects".

Political and Islamic leaders across Asia and the Middle East condemned the killings.

"I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11," Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan posted on social media. "1.3 billion Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror."

Al-Azhar University, Egypt's 1000-year-old seat of Sunni Islamic learning, said the attacks had "violated the sanctity of the houses of God".

"We warn the attack is a dangerous indicator of the dire consequences of escalating hate speech, xenophobia, and the spread of Islamophobia."

Six Indonesians had been inside one of the mosques, with three managing to escape and three unaccounted for, its foreign minister said.

Afghanistan's ambassador said on Twitter three Afghans had been wounded. Two Malaysians were wounded, their foreign ministry said.

Muslims account for just over 1 percent of New Zealand's population, a 2013 census showed.

'FIRING WENT ON AND ON'

The online footage, which appeared to have been captured on a camera strapped to a gunman's head, showed him driving as music played in his vehicle. After parking, he took two guns and walked a short distance to the mosque where he opened fire.

Over the course of five minutes, he repeatedly shot worshippers, leaving more than a dozen bodies in one room alone. He returned to the car during that period to change guns, and went back to the mosque to shoot anyone showing signs of life.

One man, with blood still on his shirt, said in a television interview that he hid from a gunman under a bench and prayed that he would run out of bullets.

"I was just praying to God and hoping our God, please, let this guy stop" Mahmood Nazeer told TVNZ.

"The firing went on and on. One person with us had a bullet in her arm. When the firing stopped, I looked over the fence, there was one guy, changing his gun."

The video shows the gunman then driving off at high speed and firing from his car. Another video, taken by someone else, showed police apprehending a gunman on a pavement by a road.

Police said improvised explosive devices were found. The gunman's video had shown red petrol canisters in the back of his car, along with weapons.

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

"They were on the bus, which was just pulling up to the mosque when the shooting begun,” Mario Villavarayen, a team coach, told Reuters in a message. "They are shaken but good.”

The third cricket test was cancelled, New Zealand Cricket said later.

Violent crime is rare in New Zealand and police do not usually carry guns. Britain's Queen Elizabeth, the head of state of New Zealand, said she was deeply saddened by the shootings.

Before Friday, New Zealand's worst mass shooting was in 1990 when a gun-mad loner killed 13 men, women and children in a 24-hour rampage in the tiny seaside village of Aramoana. He was killed by police.

Reuters

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