Forty-nine people have been confirmed dead in the New Zealand city of Christchurch after a gunman walked into a local mosque and live-streamed himself on social media opening fire on hundreds of worshippers.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed at 7pm on Friday that 41 people have been killed at the Masjid Al Noor mosque and a further 7 people have been killed at the Linwood Masjid mosque.
A person being treated at Christchurch Hospital was later confirmed dead, bringing the current death toll to 49.
Commissioner Bush also confirmed that one man aged in his late 20s has been charged with murder and was due to appear in court on Saturday.
The city remained in lockdown and New Zealand’s national security threat level was lifted from low to high.
“It is clear this can only now be described as a terrorist attack,” Ms Ardern said.
“We have undoubtedly experienced an attack today that is unprecedented, unlike anything we have experience before.
“For all we know it does appear to have been well-planned.”
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed a shooter armed with an automatic weapon walked into the Masjid al Noor mosque about 1.40pm local time on Friday and opened fire on hundreds of worshippers.
Four suspects – three men and one woman – are in custody.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed one of the male suspects was an “Australian-born citizen”.
Commissioner Bush has confirmed there were a number of bombs attached to cars that have been made safe now.
The New Zealand army has reportedly been brought in as police urge people not to attend any mosques throughout the country as a massive security operation continues.
“We cannot assume this is limited to Christchurch,” Commissioner Bush said.
“We are dealing with a very serious and tragic series of events.
“They involve multiple fatalities.”
He also confirmed there were shootings at two separate Mosques.
“[The situation] continues to evolve,” he said.
“I want to assure everyone that we have mobilised every police resource in the Canterbury region to respond to this. And we are also in the process of mobilising every national police resource to keep people safe.
“But I also want to ask you to stay indoors if you’re in that location, and I want to ask anyone that was thinking of going to a mosque, anywhere in New Zealand today, not to go, to close your doors until you hear from us again,” he said.
The shooter, described by witnesses as white-skinned with blond hair and wearing a helmet and bulletproof vest, entered the mosque near the centrally located Hagley Park about 10 minutes after up to 500 people began praying, on their knees.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was New Zealand’s “darkest day”, saying there was no place in the country for such acts of supreme violence.
“It has occurred in a place where people should have been expressing their religious freedom. Where they should have been in a safe environment. And they have not been today. There is no place in New Zealand for such extreme acts of unprecedented violence.
“The people who were the subject of this attack today, New Zealand is their home. They should be safe here. The person who has perpetuated this violent act against them, they have no place in New Zealand society,” she said.
She told reporters that at least one person is in custody and police are dealing with a situation that is “evolving” and was “across multiple sites”.
Posted by New Zealand Police on Thursday, March 14, 2019
There are unconfirmed reports of a second shooting in the nearby eastern suburb of Linwood amid reports a bomb has been found on Strickland Street in Spreydon, to the south of the Christchurch CBD.
Gunfire was heard coming from the direction of the mosque and several people were seen on the ground outside the building.
Witnesses reported seeing at least four people on the ground and “blood everywhere”.
One man said the scene at the mosque was chaotic.
“I heard a big sound of the gun. And a second one, I ran. Lots of people were sitting on the floor. I ran behind the mosque,” he told TVNZ.
“The floor. There’s lots of blood on the floor, you can see when you go in.”
The man, who did not give his name, said he saw four people on the floor but did not see the shooter.
The Bangladesh cricket team was among those who managed to escape.
Bangladesh team escaped from a mosque near Hagley Park where there were active shooters. They ran back through Hagley Park back to the Oval. pic.twitter.com/VtkqSrljjV
— Mohammad Isam (@Isam84) March 15, 2019
Fairfax in New Zealand quoted one eye witness who said he was praying in the Deans Ave mosque when he heard the shooting start.
“My wife is dead,” he said, wailing as friends helped support him as another man said he saw children being shot.
Another eye witness told Fairfax: “There were bodies all over me.”
Ranzan Ala said everyone started running to one of the doors when the shooting began. Once he got outside and ran away, he saw he had blood on him from other people.
“Oh my God, I don’t want to see this kind of thing, it’s a nightmare. It’s going to be there for weeks and months.”
His friend from Fiji was also in the mosque with him and was missing.
About 20 to 30 children had been among the roughly 500 people inside, he said.
Commissioner Bush urged anyone in central Christchurch to stay off the streets and report any suspicious behaviour immediately to the New Zealand emergency phone number (111).
All council-owned facilities across the city were also in lockdown, and parents have been urged not to come and collect their children if they are in a central-city location.
Emergency services and armed police remain on the scene and say the “risk environment remains extremely high”.
We have a critical incident in Deans Ave Christchurch. Please avoid the area. We will give more in the near future.
— Canterbury Police NZ (@NZPCanterbury) March 15, 2019