At least 40 people were killed when gunmen said to be whites opened indiscriminate fire at two mosques in Christchurch city on Friday in what New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said was a terror attack.
Ardern said 10 people were killed at the Linwood Avenue Mosque and 30 at the Al Noor Mosque near Hagley Park and a further 20 people were seriously injured, The New Zealand Herald reported.
The Christchurch Hospital said 48 people had suffered gunshot wounds.
Ardern called the killings “one of New Zealand’s darkest days” and an “unprecedented” situation.
At least one of the killers was an Australian man. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the suspected attacker as an “extremist right-wing violent terrorist”.
The Australian reportedly filmed as he shot victims – and wrote a manifesto declaring his intentions, saying “it is a terrorist attack”, Christchurch Police Commissioner Mike Bush told the media.
BBC quoted witnesses as saying that they ran for their lives and saw people bleeding on the ground outside the Al Noor mosque.
The gunman targeted the men’s prayer room in the mosque and then moved to the women’s room.
“It is clear that this can only be described as a terrorist attack. From what we know, it does appear to have been well planned. Two explosive devices attached to suspects’ vehicles have been found and they have been disarmed,” the Prime Minister said.
Three men and a woman were arrested after the massacre, authorities said.
“These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world,” Ardern said.
She said it was obvious the attacks had been planned for some time.
Police said there were also multiple improvised explosive devices attached to vehicles as part of the attack.
“This goes to the seriousness of the situation,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.
The Bangladesh cricket team now touring New Zealand had a narrow escape as the entire team had gone to one of the mosques near Hagley Park for Friday prayers.
Player Tamim Iqbal tweeted that the “entire team got saved from active shooters”.
Bangladesh Cricket Board spokesman Jalal Yunus said most of the team had gone to the mosque by bus and were about to go inside when the incident took place.
Authorities called off the New Zealand-Bangladesh third Test match that was set to be played in Christchurch.
The government advised people not to go to mosques until further notice. All Christchurch schools were hurriedly shut down.
One man, Robert Weatherhead, told Newstalk that he took in people who escaped from the Al Noor mosque.
He described the gunman as “white, aged in his 30s or 40s and wearing a uniform”, but he could not make out what the uniform was.
Another witness, who was in the front row of devotees when the gunman came in, told The New Zealand Herald that the suspect first shot people outside, adding that he heard the gun being reloaded about three times.
“The gunman began shooting in all directions,” the witness said.
A woman told the Christchurch Star she lay in her car near the mosque as four to five men came running towards her.