‘One of New Zealand’s darkest days’: Survivor stories emerge after 49 killed in mosque shootings

by - 7 min read

‘One of New Zealand’s darkest days’: Survivor stories emerge after 49 killed in mosque shootings

by - 7 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.  

LATEST UPDATES ON CHRISTCHURCH ATTACKS:

  • 49 killed, 48 injured in attacks at 2 mosques.
  • PM calls it ‘one of New Zealand’s darkest days.’
  • Gunman returned to vehicle, then resumed shooting.
  • Police confirm finding IEDs attached to a vehicle.
  • Australian with reported racist manifesto charged with murder.
  • Security threat level in New Zealand raised to second highest level. 

Forty-nine people were killed and another 48 injured in shootings at two mosques filled with worshippers during Friday prayers in Christchurch, in what the prime minister is calling “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

A man in his 20s has been charged with murder, said Mike Bush, New Zealand’s police commissioner. Two other suspects were in custody while police worked to determine what role they played.

Australian media reports identified the accused as Brenton Tarrant, 28, from the city of Grafton in New South Wales, Australia.

A 74-page manifesto was posted on social media under Tarrant’s name, identifying the gunman as a white nationalist who was out to avenge attacks in Europe that were perpetrated by Muslims. 

The cold-blooded attack, which was broadcast on live video in Christchurch on New Zealand’s south island — home to nearly 400,000 people, and approximately 440 kilometres from the capital of Wellington on the north island — sent shockwaves across the nation of five million people. Police have urged the public not to repost the livestream.

A still image taken from video circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, shows him driving in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Brenton Tarrant/Twitter/Reuters)

Bush said the “unprecedented, abhorrent event” is now being treated as a terrorist incident.

The majority of those killed were at the Masjid Al-Noor, a mosque on Deans Avenue in the central part of the city, with the shooting occurring around 1:45 p.m. local time.

During a second shooting at the nearby Linwood Avenue mosque, seven people were killed. One more person died later at Christchurch Hospital.

A view of the Masjid Al-Noor, a mosque on Deans Avenue in Christchurch, New Zealand, taken in 2014. (Martin Hunter/SNPA/Reuters)

Police arrest a suspect in Christchurch: 

Video of the suspected gunman’s arrest shows officers surrounding a vehicle that had been struck by a police cruiser. 1:27

Video of the accused gunman’s arrest shows officers surrounding a vehicle that had been struck by a police cruiser.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the national security threat level in New Zealand was raised to the second highest level after the attack.

“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 the victims could be migrants or refugees.

“This is not who we are,” she said. “This act was not a reflection of who we are as a nation.”

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 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on a single vehicle.

Witness saw people running in terror

Worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, lay huddled on the floor at the Al-Noor mosque, the video posted to social media shows. It also showed a gunman going through the main entrance and opening fire for a few minutes.

He then walked outside, where he shot at people on the sidewalk. Children’s screams could be heard in the distance as he returned to his vehicle to get another rifle. The gunman then walked back into the mosque, where there were at least two dozen people lying on the ground, and continued shooting.

Mohan Ibrahim talks about escaping 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

Syed Ahmed was among the lucky ones who survived the shooting at the Linwood mosque. Ahmed, who was in the first row when the imam started prayers, said he heard gunshots go off outside the window to his right-hand side.

“I heard three or four shots, and people started falling down and everybody started to take cover. There were a few people falling down, and he was shooting indiscriminately and there was women screaming.”

The elderly who were sitting in chairs along the wall were among the first to be shot, he recalled. 

“For three or four hours, I couldn’t comprehend what was happening around me and, you know, seeing the friend like dying right next to you and helpless. Like, old people, women who were just helpless … and they became easier targets.”

This still image taken from video circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, shows him entering a mosque in Christchurch. (Brenton Tarrant/Twitter/Reuters)

He fled the mosque to try to find help and couldn’t get back inside when police arrived.

“It’s just unbelievable.”    

Len Peneha, who lives next door to the Masjid Al-Noor, said 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.

Heavily armed police gather outside the Masjid Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch after Friday’s shooting. (Martin Hunter/Reuters)

“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.”

Video ‘very disturbing’

Peneha said the gunman was white and wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance. 

“He changed magazines seven times,” said Farid Ahmed, who was inside Al-Noor and spoke to the Guardian. He said he took cover under a bench.

This photo of rifle ammunition appeared on a now-deleted Twitter account from a user whose name matched that of the Christchurch shootings suspect. Those mentioned include Quebec City mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette and Sebastiano Venier, who led a Christian naval force in a 1571 wartime victory over a Turkish fleet in the Mediterranean. (Brenton Tarrant/Twitter/Reuters)

Mohan Ibrahim ran outside as soon as the gunman started shooting and then could hear continuous shooting for 10 to 15 minutes, he told CBC News.

“I don’t feel safe,” he said.

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.”

Sajjan Gohel, the international security director with the Asia-Pacific Foundation, told CBC Radio’s The Current the gunman wanted the attack to be “visualized” and said that’s a “disturbing dynamic now that we are witnessing on terrorism.”

Reference to previous killings

On Wednesday, the Twitter handle @brentontarrant tweeted pictures of one of the guns apparently later used in the attacks. It was covered in white lettering, featuring the names of others who had committed race- or religion-based killings. It included the phrase: “Here’s Your Migration Compact.”

Police attempt to move people away from the Masjid Al-Noor. (Mark Baker/Associated Press)

Tweets from the account, suspended not long after the shootings began, also showed rifle magazines covered with the names of historical figures, as well as Alexandre Bissonnette, who shot and killed six men inside a Quebec City mosque on Jan, 29, 2017.

Prime Minister Ardern said, “We should not be perpetuating, sharing, giving any oxygen to this act of violence and the message that’s set behind it.”

Ardern 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 response to the attack:

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responds after shootings at 2 mosques 2:11

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.”

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.

Police commissioner Mike Bush talks to reporters: 

Police said the investigation extended 360 kilometres to the south, where homes in Dunedin were evacuated around a “location of interest.” They gave no details.

Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry said an Indonesian father and son were injured in the shootings and taken to Christchurch Hospital. The ministry said the father is in intensive care.

The man’s wife, Alta Marie, said on Facebook that Zulfirman Syah and their son were at the hospital.

“My husband was shot in multiple places, and has a drain in his lung and has been in surgery,” she wrote. “I was recently united with my son, who has a gunshot wound to the leg and backside. He is traumatized.”

The International Red Cross set up a web page to help people contact family members who may have been at the mosques during the shootings.

Three Bangladeshis were among the dead and one was missing, the consulate said, without saying at which mosque they were shot.

The visiting Bangladesh cricket team was arriving for prayers at Al-Noor, but was warned not to go inside and all of its members were safe, a team coach said.

“The players are shaken up but fine,” coach MarioVillavarayen told the New Zealand Herald.

This story originally appeared on CBC

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