SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — At least forty-nine people were killed and more than 20 seriously wounded Friday in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Three men and one woman are in custody. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said none of them were on security watch lists.
A 28-year old man has been charged with murder. He is expected to appear in court Saturday, according to Police Commissioner Mike Bush.
While Bush refused to name the person who has been charged, Television New Zealand (TVNZ) has identified the gunman as 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant from Grafton, New South Wales, Australia. Australian officials have confirmed the gunman is an Australian citizen.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the man arrested was an Australian citizen. Morrison described the suspected attacker as an “extremist right-wing violent terrorist.”
Commissioner Bush said part of the investigation will be “to look back at every possibility to ensure that we, in law enforcement and security, didn’t miss any opportunities to prevent this horrendous event.”
The two mosques were attacked during Friday prayers attended by hundreds of worshippers.
Assault live streamed
The gunman live-streamed the assault on Facebook from a head-mounted camera, and the footage showed how victims were killed inside one of the mosques. The shooter broadcast the live footage after publishing a manifesto in which he called immigrants “invaders.” Social media sites were asked to remove the horrific footage.
Forty-one of those killed were at one mosque and children are among the 48 people being treated for gunshot wounds, officials said.
Bush said a “record number of firearms” was recovered at both mosques.
Worshipper Ahmed Al-Mahmoud told New Zealand television a gunman entered a mosque and began “shooting like everyone in the mosque, like everywhere,” prompting worshippers to smash door and window glass in an attempt to flee.
Prime Minister Ardern said it was one of New Zealand’s “darkest days”.
She went on to say it was clear “this can now only be described as a terrorist attack.”
The New Zealand military also defused explosive devices attached to a car.
Mosques shut down
Authorities advised all mosques in Christchurch to shut down until further notice. A lockdown on all schools in Christchurch has been lifted, but the city remains on high alert.
Thursday’s attacks are unprecedented in New Zealand, a country of 4.5 million people that prides itself on its social diversity.
Adern said “Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.”
Trump extends condolences
U.S. President Donald Trump extended condolences on Twitter to New Zealanders and added, “The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do.”
My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2019
The Bangladesh cricket team was at one of the mosques when the shooting started, but the players were able to escape. Their third test match with New Zealand, scheduled for Sunday, has been canceled.
Phil Mercer I VOA