Two mosques in the city of Christchurch in New Zealand were attacked on Friday, with at least 49 people killed and more than 40 others wounded as Muslims worshipped.
During afternoon prayers on Friday – Islam’s holy day – a gunman opened fire inside the Masjid al Noor mosque in central Christchurch, killing 41 people. Another seven were slain at a second mosque five kilometres away in suburban Linwood, three of them outside the building.
The remaining victim died at hospital.
Witnesses said some victims were shot at close range.
Farid Ahmed, a wheelchair-bound witness in Christchurch, told Al Jazeera he was at the back of the mosque and heard the shooting for about seven minutes.
“I pushed myself at the back where my car was parked and I was behind the car. And from there I was hearing shooting after shooting,” he said. “After about 10 minutes, I thought the shooter has left. I pushed myself to get inside the mosque and it was unbelievable. I saw in the main room on the right-hand side more than 20 people, some of them dead, some screaming.
“I saw on the floor hundreds of bullet shells. I saw one guy trying to run out and he was shot dead.”
Another witness said he saw his wife lying dead outside as he escaped, with one more saying he witnessed children being shot.
The gunman broadcast live footage on Facebook of the attack on one of the mosques.
The video, almost 17 minutes long, shows a white man in camouflage and black clothing driving to what appears to be the Al Noor mosque. After entering the site, he repeatedly shot worshippers, leaving more than 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 is filmed in the style of a first-person shooter computer game.
It was not immediately clear if the attacks at the two mosques were carried out by the same man.
Who were the victims?
People from around the world were in the mosque at the time of the assault. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said some of the victims may have been new immigrants or refugees.
Young children were among 48 people being treated at Christchurch Hospital.
A Jordanian man was killed in the attack, the country’s foreign ministry said, the first and only victim identified by authorities so far. At least five Jordanians were among those wounded.
Indonesia’s foreign ministry said two Indonesians – a father and his son – were injured in the attack. The father was in intensive care and his son was being treated at the same hospital, according to Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir, who declined to identify them.
(Police officers inspect the shooting site as dead body of a victim is seen on the ground behind of the car in front of Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand)
Afghanistan’s ambassador said on Twitter three Afghans had been wounded. Two Malaysians were wounded, their foreign ministry said.
A Saudi Arabian man and two Turks were also among those wounded.
India’s high commissioner to New Zealand said nine people of Indian nationality or origin were missing.
Four Pakistanis were wounded in the mass shooting, while five others were missing, said Mohammad Faisal, a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry.
Some narrowly escaped, including the Bangladesh cricket team who was were en route to pray at the Al Noor mosque before a scheduled test match against host team New Zealand.
Khaled Mashud, the team’s manager, said they saw “bloodied people coming out of the mosque … we kept our heads down in the bus in case of any firing”.
How did authorities respond?
Police imposed a city-wide lockdown, sending armed officers to a number of scenes. Two improvised explosive devices were found attached to a vehicle and neutralised.
Three men and a woman were detained. One of the men was later charged with murder, and two others remained in custody, though their role in the attacks was not clear.
Officials warned Muslims not to visit mosques “anywhere in New Zealand”, a country of nearly five million people where mass shootings are rare. A police presence has been placed at mosques around the country and ramped up throughout Christchurch.
Amid heightened tensions, the military carried out controlled explosions on two bags left unattended in central Auckland, although they turned out not to be suspicious.
Ardern, the prime minister, said the assault on the mosques appeared to be a well-planned “terrorist attack”.
“This is, and will be, one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” Ardern told reporters.
Who are the suspects?
The three suspects have not yet been identified, and police have refused to comment on their motivations citing ongoing investigations.
Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, described the suspects as having “extremist views”. She said her government has no reason to believe there are more suspects, but that intelligence services and police were working on establishing this.
Mike Bush, New Zealand’s police commissioner, said the man charged with murder was not known to intelligence services. He said police were “not aware of other people, but we cannot assume there are not others at large”.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the suspect charged with murder was an Australian citizen, and described him as “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”.
The 28-year-old suspect, who is set to appear at a Christchurch court on Saturday, published a racist manifesto on Twitter before the shooting, which he livestreamed on Facebook.
Entitled “The Great Replacement”, the 74-page manifesto said the gunman – who identified himself as an Australia-born, white male from a low-income, working-class family – had wanted to attack Muslims. The title of the manifesto has the same name as a conspiracy theory originating in France that believes European populations are being displaced in their homelands by immigrant groups with higher birth rates.
A number of pictures were posted to a social media account of a semi-automatic weapon covered in the names of historical figures, many of whom were involved in the killing of Muslims.
Facebook and Twitter said they would take down content involving the shootings.
Source –Al Jazeera