New Zealand mourns as mosque shootings death toll rises to 50

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New Zealand mourns as mosque shootings death toll rises to 50

by - 3 min read

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CBC News is carefully considering the use of images and video from this attack, and is only using this material sparingly in the interest of helping our readers understand what happened and why.


The death toll in the attack on two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch rose to 50 after investigators found another victim as they removed bodies from the crime scenes, the country’s police commissioner said on Sunday local time, as authorities worked to formally identify victims and release their bodies to families.

Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday.

Tarrant, handcuffed and wearing a white prison suit, stood silently in the Christchurch District Court where he was remanded without a plea. He is due back in court on April 5 and police said he was likely to face further charges.

Friday’s attack, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labelled as terrorism, was the worst ever peacetime mass killing in New Zealand and the country had raised its security threat level to the highest.

Footage of the attack on one of the mosques was broadcast live on Facebook, and a “manifesto” denouncing immigrants as “invaders” was also posted online via links to related social media accounts.

Watch as New Zealand PM addresses mosque attacks:

Officials in New Zealand will be probing whether those behind deadly mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch should have been on the radar of authorities, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday. 10:58

The bodies of the victims had not yet been released to families because investigations were ongoing, but police were working as quickly as they could to do that, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said at a media conference in Wellington.

It is customary in Islam to bury the dead within the 24 hours.

“We have to be absolutely clear on cause of death and confirm their identity before that can happen. But we are so aware of the cultural and religious needs, so we are doing that as quickly and sensitively as possible,” Bush said.

Bush said the body of the 50th victim was found at the Al-Noor mosque, where more than 40 people died after a gunman entered and shot randomly at people with a semi-automatic rifle with high-capacity magazines, before traveling to a second mosque.

A woman reacts as she pays tribute to victims of the mosque attacks outside Masjid Al-Noor in Christchurch. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

“As of last night we were able to take all of the victims from both of those scenes. In doing so we were able to locate a further victim,” he said.

Bush said there were also 50 people injured. He also said 36 were being treated in Christchurch Hospital, with two remaining in intensive care, and one child was at a dedicated children’s hospital.

At a roadblock outside the Al-Noor mosque, about 40 people were standing in silence near scores of bunches of flowers. Police with gloves and metal detectors combed the street and footpath.

Church services for victims of the attack were held around the country, including at Christchurch’s “Cardboard Cathedral,” a temporary structure built after much of the central city was destroyed in a 2011 earthquake.

The majority of victims were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia and Afghanistan. Muslims account for just over 1 per cent of New Zealand’s population.

Gun laws to change

Bush said police did not believe that three other people arrested on Friday were involved in the attack. Two men faced charges unrelated or “tangential” to the attack, while a woman had been released, he said. Tarrant did not have a criminal history and was not on any watchlists in New Zealand or Australia.

In a manifesto circulating online, Tarrant described himself as “Just a ordinary White man, 28 years old” who used the spoils of cryptocurrency trading to finance extensive travels through Europe from 2016-2018.

Ardern said Tarrant was a licensed gun owner who allegedly used five weapons, including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns, which had been modified.

Watch as eyewitness says he escaped as shots began:

An eyewitness of one of two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shootings says he escaped through the side door as the gunman opened fire. Mohan Ibrahim has lived in the country for five years, but says after the attack, he does not feel safe. 14:59

“I can tell you one thing right now, our gun laws will change,” Ardern told reporters on Saturday, saying a ban on semi-automatic weapons would be considered.

New Zealand has in the past tried to tighten firearm laws, but a strong gun lobby and culture of hunting has stymied such efforts.

There are an estimated 1.5 million firearms in New Zealand, which has a population of only 5 million, but the country has had low levels of gun violence.

This story originally appeared on CBC

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