Many dead in New Zealand shooting at two mosques during Friday prayers

Many dead in New Zealand shooting at two mosques during Friday prayers
Police corden off the areas close to the mosque after a gunman filmed himself firing at worshippers inside in Christchurch on March 15, 2019.
PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON - A gunman opened fire on Friday prayers at a mosque in New Zealand killing many worshippers and forcing the city of Christchurch into lockdown, in what looked set to be the country's worst ever mass shooting.

New Zealand media reported that between nine and 27 people were killed, but the death toll could not be confirmed. Police said multiple fatalities had occurred at two mosques, but it was unclear how many attackers were involved.

Video footage widely circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, showed him driving to one mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people inside.

Worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, lay huddled on the floor of the mosque, the video showed. Reuters was unable to confirm the authenticity of the footage.

Shooters go on rampage at 2 Christchurch mosques, 40 killed

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    Attacks on two Christchurch mosques left at least 40 dead Friday, with one gunman - identified as an Australian extremist -- apparently livestreaming the assault that triggered the lockdown of the New Zealand city.

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    Emergency services personnel transport a stretcher carrying a person at a hospital, after reports that several shots had been fired, in central Christchurch, New Zealand March 15, 2019.

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    AOS (Armed Offenders Squad) member following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019.

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    A police car blocks the car of a suspect following shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand March 15, 2019, in this still image obtained from a social media video.

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    An image grab from TV New Zealand taken on March 15, 2019 shows New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressing the country on television following the mosque shooting in Christchurch.

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    Flowers are placed on the front steps of the Wellington Masjid mosque in Kilbirnie in Wellington on March 15, 2019

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    Police cordon off the area in front of the Masjid al Noor mosque after a shooting incident in Christchurch on March 15, 2019.

One man who said he was at the Al Noor mosque told media the gunman was white, blond and wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest. The man burst into the mosque as worshippers were kneeling for prayers.

"He had a big gun ... he came and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere," said the man, Ahmad Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.

Radio New Zealand quoted a witness inside the mosque saying he heard shots fired and at least four people were lying on the ground and "there was blood everywhere".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned what she called "an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence".

"This is one of New Zealand's darkest days," she said.

Neither Ardern nor police gave a casualty toll.

New Zealand's Police Commissioner Mike Bush said four people - three men and a woman - had been taken into custody but it was not clear if the gunman was among them or if other people were involved.

Bush also said it should not be assumed the attack was isolated to Christchurch. "At this point in time we should never make assumptions," he said.

Bush also said IEDs, improvised explosive devices, were found with a vehicle they stopped.

The online video footage, which appeared to have been captured on a camera strapped to the gunman's head, showed red petrol canisters in the back of his car, along with weapons.

All mosques in New Zealand had been asked to shut their doors, police said.

The Bangladesh cricket team was arriving for Friday prayers when the shooting occurred but all members were safe, a team coach told Reuters.

The foreign minister of Indonesia, which has the world's biggest Muslim population, condemned the shooting.

Muslims account for just over 1 per cent of New Zealand's population, a 2013 census showed.

"Many of those who would have been affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand," Ardern said.

"They may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home and it is their home ... they are us. The persons who has perpetuated this violence against us ... have no place in New Zealand."

'BLOOD EVERYWHERE'

The online footage showed the gunman driving as music played in his vehicle. After parking, he took two guns and walked a short distance to the entrance of the mosque.

He then opened fire. Over the course of five minutes, he repeatedly shoots worshippers, leaving well over a dozen bodies in one room alone. He returned to the car during that period to change guns, and went back to the mosque to shoot anyone showing signs of life.

The video shows the gunman driving off at high speed and later firing at parked cars and a building. Police said the second mosque attacked was in the suburb of Linwood, but gave no details.

Another unconfirmed video taken by someone else appeared to show police apprehending the gunman by the side of a road.

The Bangladesh cricket team is in Christchurch to play New Zealand in a third cricket test starting on Saturday.

"They were on the bus, which was just pulling up to the mosque when the shooting begun," Mario Villavarayen, strength and conditioning coach of the Bangladesh cricket team, told Reuters in a message. "They are shaken but good."

The third cricket test was cancelled, New Zealand Cricket said later.

Violent crime is rare in New Zealand and police do not usually carry guns.

Before Friday, New Zealand's worst mass shooting was in 1990 when a gun-mad loner killed 11 men, women and children in a 24-hour rampage in the tiny seaside village of Aramoana. He was killed by police.

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