Asia Pacific

Dozens killed in terrorist attack on 2 New Zealand mosques

Dozens of people were killed Friday, March 15 when a man opened fire on religious services at two mosques in Christchurch, with 49 people are so far confirmed dead and nearly as many injured in what New Zealand’s prime minister called a dark day for the country.

Forty-one people were shot and killed at the Masjid Al Noor and seven were killed at the Linwood Islamic Center.

In a 9 p.m. press briefing, New Zealand police commissioner Mike Bush said one of the people being treated in hospital had died, bringing the death toll to 49.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said earlier that three people had died outside the mosque on Linwood Avenue.

Christchurch Hospital is treating 48 people, including young children, for gunshot wounds, Canterbury District Health Board Chief Executive David Meates said in a statement, while other facilities in the area have treated additional patients.

A man in his late 20s was charged with murder and is set to appear in court on Saturday morning.

The shooter, who described himself as a 28-year-old Australian-born citizen, was taken into custody and has been charged with murder, Bush said. He is set to appear in court on Saturday morning.

Three other people, including a woman, were arrested shortly after the attack. Police believe one of them may not be connected to the incident and the other two are still being investigated, Bush said. All were armed, he added.

“We have recovered a number of firearms from both of the scenes,” Bush said.

Police also uncovered two improvised explosive devices that were attached to a vehicle. As of Friday night, one was dismantled and police and military experts were working to dismantle the second.

New Zealand and Australian agencies had no information about any of the people in custody, he said.

“While we do not have anything to believe at this stage that there were any other suspects, we are not assuming that at this stage,” the prime minister said.

However, the country’s national security threat level has been raised from low to high for the first time.

‘White nationalist milieu’

Ardern described the shooting as a terrorist attack and said it was one of New Zealand’s “darkest days.”

The shooter was able to stream live on social media for nearly 20 minutes during the shooting and had posted a document online detailing his justifications for the shooting, which he said he had planned for two years. The document cited immigration of Muslims to Europe, Australia and New Zealand as the primary reason for the attack.

He claimed to not be part of any organization but cited white nationalist figures as inspiration, including Anders Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist who killed 77 people, including more than a dozen children, in a 2011 bomb and gun attack in Norway.

“I think his motivations fit squarely in the white nationalist milieu we have watched rise and solidify for some time. These kinds of movements – and I use movement on purpose because we need to stop seeing these guys as isolated individuals – have been growing quietly on the fringes of cyber space and have now become emboldened,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

“They have heroes like Breivik and [Dylann] Roof, they have cheerleaders in the halls of power, and are more and more starting to see a necessity for action. Instead of just talking online. We are going to see more of this.”

Facebook said it acted quickly to remove the shooter’s account after being alerted to the video by police, adding, “We’re also removing any praise or support for the crime and the shooter or shooters as soon as we’re aware.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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