LATEST UPDATES ON CHRISTCHURCH ATTACKS:
- 49 killed in attacks on Christchurch mosques.
- At least 20 seriously injured. PM calls it ‘one of New Zealand’s darkest days.’
- Police confirm finding IEDs attached to a vehicle.
- 1 man in his 20s charged with murder, will appear in court Saturday.
- Security threat level in New Zealand raised to second-highest level.
At least 49 people are dead and 20 seriously injured in shootings at two mosques filled with worshippers during Friday prayers in what the prime minister is calling “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
A man in his 20s has been charged with murder and will appear in court on Saturday, said Mike Bush, New Zealand police commissioner.
Bush said the “unprecedented, abhorrent event” is now being treated as a terrorist event.
The majority of those killed were at the MajidAl-Noor, the main mosque in the central part of the city, with the shooting occurring at about 1:45 p.m. local time. Ten were killed at a mosque in the suburb of Linwood, said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Bush, who cautioned that events were still evolving, urged people to remain vigilant and said police will continue to be a visible presence in the city and across the country.
“Three other people were apprehended,” Bush said in a late-night briefing on Friday. “We believe one of those persons, who was armed and was at the scene, may have had nothing to do with this incident.”
He said they are still trying to work through what involvement the other two may have had. None of the people in custody were known to security officials, he said.
5/9 We are unable at this stage to provide details about matters leading up to the attacks. It is very early days and these matters will form part of the investigation. <br>There is an increased Police presence across Christchurch and surrounding areas.
Ardern said the national security threat level was being raised to the second-highest level.
“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” said Ardern, calling it an “extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” and saying many of those affected may be migrants and refugees.
“This is not who we are,” she said. “This act was not a reflection of who we are as a nation.”
Watch the latest briefing by Mike Bush, New Zealand police commissioner.
Ardern praised police for their work in apprehending suspects and disarming the explosives that were attached to a car. Bush later clarified it was two IEDs on a single vehicle.
Witness saw people running in terror
Len Peneha, who lives next door to the Majid Al-Noor, told The Associated Press he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots. He also saw people running from the mosque in terror, and a gunman flee before emergency services arrived.
Peneha said he went into the mosque to try to help: “I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque.
“It’s unbelievable nutty. I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”
He said he helped about five people recover in his home and one was slightly injured.
“I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly. I just don’t understand it.”
Police did not offer any specifics or information that would identify the people in custody. However, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison later confirmed one of them is Australian.
A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left an anti-immigrant manifesto explaining who he was and his reason for his actions, and said he considered it a terrorist attack.
Peneha said the gunman was white and wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.
A video that was livestreamed, apparently by the shooter, shows the attack in horrifying detail. The footage appeared to come from a camera strapped to the shooter’s head.
Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Bush said he was “absolutely aware” of the video purporting to show the attack, and called it “very disturbing.”
“It shouldn’t be in the public domain and we’re doing everything that we can to remove it.”
Ardern said, “We should not be perpetuating, sharing, giving any oxygen to this act of violence and the message that’s set behind it.”
The prime minister said there’s “no place in New Zealand” for those behind the attacks. She said some of the victims may have been migrants or refugees to New Zealand, but were part of the community: “They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.”
Watch the prime minister’s initial response to the attack:
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said in a video posted on Facebook, “I would never believe that I would be standing in front of a camera and talking to the people of Christchurch about the shocking incident that has affected us all.”
She urged people to stay calm, stay inside and trust police.
As the crisis unfolded, Christchurch schools and council buildings were under lockdown. Police were still urging caution Friday evening local time, even as some lockdowns were lifted.
“Let’s not presume that the danger is gone,” Bush said at the time, adding that police will continue to be highly visible in the neighbourhoods affected.
He also said it was not possible to assume he attack was isolated to Christchurch: “At this point in time we should never make assumptions.”
The Bangladesh cricket team is in Christchurch to play New Zealand in a third cricket test starting on Saturday.
Mario Villavarayen, the strength and conditioning coach, was quoted by the New Zealand Herald as saying the team was close to where the shooting occurred, but was safe.
“The players are shaken up but fine,” Villavarayen told the newspaper.
This story originally appeared on CBC