Police say 4 in custody after deadly attacks on New Zealand mosques

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Police say 4 in custody after deadly attacks on New Zealand mosques

by - 4 min read

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Four people are in custody in Christchurch, New Zealand, following shootings at two mosques which left a “significant” number of people dead, according to police. 

“I can confirm that staff have arrested four people, I won’t assume there aren’t others at large,” said New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush.

Bush couldn’t say exactly how many people died in the attacks, saying sites were still on lockdown.

He did not identify the people in custody, but said he believed it was three men and one woman.

The mosques were full of people attending Friday prayers. 

A man rests on the ground as he speaks on his mobile phone across the road from mosque in central Christchurch. (Mark Baker/Associated Press)

Bush also told reporters police found a number of improvised explosive devices attached to cars “which we were able to secure.”

“This speaks to the seriousness of what occurred,” he said.

Watch the police commissioner’s news conference:

Police are urging extreme caution in Christchurch after shootings at a mosque left several people dead. 5:39

The deadliest shooting occurred at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch at about 1:45 p.m. local time. 

Witness Len Peneha told The Associated Press he saw a man dressed in black enter the Masjid Al Noor mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.

He said he also saw the gunman flee before emergency services arrived.

Armed police patrol outside a mosque in central Christchurch. (Mark Baker/Associated Press)

Peneha said he went into the mosque to try and help: “I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said. “It’s unbelievable nutty. I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”

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

Police did not offer any specifics or identifying information about the people in custody.

A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left an anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for his actions. He said he considered it a terrorist attack. 

When asked if police know anything about motivation, Bush said “not conclusively.”

Police confirm shootings at at least two mosques in Christchurch. (Mark Baker/Associated Press)

Police said there was a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque.

Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer-goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.

Nichols said he saw two injured people being carried out on stretchers past his automotive shop and that both people appeared to be alive.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called it “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

She said the perpetrator “has no place in New Zealand.”  She said the victims, some of whom may have been migrants or even refugees to New Zealand were part of their community — “they are us,” she said. “The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.” 

Watch the prime minister’s full statement: 

Police confirmed several people are dead after attacks on mosques. 6:12

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 the 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, adding that police will continue to be highly visible in the neighbourhoods affected.

He also said it was not possible to assume that the attack was isolated to Christchurch, saying: “At this point in time we should never make assumptions.”

Police attempt to move people away from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, where people were being urged to stay inside. (Mark Baker/Associated Press)

Earlier Friday, media said shots had been fired near a mosque and a witness told 1 News Now that he saw three people lying on the ground, bleeding outside the building.

Another eyewitness told 1 News Now, “The gunman came through the main entrance, everyone ran to the back doors to save themselves, people hid under cars and jumped the fence to escape. I hid at a house next to the mosque and the firing went on and on. “I saw a guy reloading and changing a gun then start firing again.”

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

Mario Villavarayen, strength and conditioning coach of the Bangladesh cricket team was quoted by the New Zealand Herald as saying that the team was close to where the shooting occurred, but was safe.

“The players are shaken up but fine,” Villavarayen was quoted as saying.

Police and ambulance staff help a wounded man from outside one of the mosques. (Mark Baker/Associated Press)

This story originally appeared on CBC

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