Coordinated terrorist shootings at New Zealand mosques leave 49 dead
Diederik van Heyningen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand) — At least 49 people were killed and dozens more injured in mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday.
The shootings, carried out by at least one gunman, were categorized as a terrorist attack.
“It’s something that we never expected to have happen here,” Christchurch MP Gerry Brownlee told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “We’re a relatively small population, and while we are ethnically quite diverse, we live very peaceable lives. And this, as many have seen, has shattered our innocence.”
Brownlee, who said he lives a short distance from one of the shooting sites, said, “Almost everyone will know someone or have a connection with the families of someone who has been either killed or seriously wounded today.”
“This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a press conference Friday.
The gunman, who was dressed in tactical gear, appeared to livestream video of the shooting on social media, according to New Zealand police. He documented his trip from his car and into the worship center in central Christchurch, where he opened fire indiscriminately, police said.
Officials said they were working to remove “extremely distressing footage” taken at the scene and urged social media users not to share it.
Three people are in custody, including one Australian citizen. One man was charged with murder and is expected to appear in court Saturday, police said.
A shooter also opened fire in the surrounding area outside of the mosques. Police said they recovered two improvised explosive devices attached to vehicles in the area, but they were rendered safe.
Police have not said if the same gunman shot at both mosques.
Witnesses said the attack occurred just before 1:40 p.m. local time as the Sheikh gave a sermon in Christchurch, which has a population of about 375,000.
Arden made reference to the nationalities of the victims, saying, “Many of those directly involved might be immigrants, refugees who chose to be here. They are us. The person who has done this, is not.”
Brownlee commended police for acting quickly and said the most important thing right now is to support those with connections to victims.
Of the 49 people killed, New Zealand police said 41 victims died at the Deans Avenue Mosque, seven at the Linwood Avenue Mosque and one at a hospital.
“New Zealand is a place where people have felt very secure and very free,” Brownlee said, “and this certainly has shaken that belief up today, and we’ve got to make sure we don’t end up with a permanent loss of the freedom that we so value.”
Ardern said none of the suspects were on any active terrorist watch lists and it was “not a matter of someone slipping under the radar.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the shootings were carried out by an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist, that has taken the lives — stolen the lives — in a vicious, murderous attack that has claimed so many New Zealanders.”
Queen Elizabeth in a statement said she’s “deeply saddened by the appalling events in Christchurch.”
“Prince Philip and I send our condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives. I also pay tribute to the emergency services and volunteers who are providing support to those who have been injured,” she said. “At this tragic time, my thoughts and prayers are with all New Zealanders.”
President Donald Trump tweeted Friday, “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!”
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
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen offered her condolences and tweeted, “There is no specific or credible threat to our homeland, but all Americans should remain vigilant so we can prevent such violent hate.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also issued a statement condemning the attacks.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” the statement said. “We stand in solidarity with the people of New Zealand and their government against this vicious act of hate.”
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