A GUNMAN killed 49 people and wounded more than 20 during Friday (15) prayers at two New Zealand mosques in an attack the country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, condemned as terrorism.
Three Bangladeshi citizens were killed in the massacre and four were injured, the consul of Bangladesh in Auckland, said.
It was not immediately clear if the attacks at the two mosques were carried out by the same man.
Forty-one people were killed at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, seven at a mosque in the Linwood neighbourhood and one died in hospital, police said. Hospitals said children were among the victims.
A gunman broadcast live footage on Facebook of the attack on one mosque, mirroring the carnage played out in video games, after publishing a “manifesto” in which he denounced immigrants, calling them “invaders”.
“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said, call this “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”.
Police said later three people were in custody and one man in his late 20s had been charged with murder. He will appear in court on Saturday (16).
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison on Friday confirmed the attacker at the Masjid al Noor mosque was an Australian.
“We stand here and condemn, absolutely the attack that occurred today by an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist,” Morrison told a press conference.
New Zealand was placed on its highest security threat level, Ardern said, adding that four people taken into custody held extremist views but had not been on any police watchlists.
The video footage widely circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, showed him driving to one mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people inside.
Worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, lay huddled on the floor, the video showed.
One man who said he was at the Al Noor mosque told media the gunman was white, blond and wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest. The man burst into the mosque as worshippers were kneeling for prayers.
“He had a big gun … he came and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere,” said the man, Ahmad Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.
All mosques in New Zealand had been asked to shut their doors and armed guards posted at them, police said, adding they were not actively looking for any other “identified suspects”.
The online footage, which appeared to have been captured on a camera strapped to a gunman’s head, showed him driving as music played in his vehicle. After parking, he took two guns and walked a short distance to the mosque where he opened fire.
Over the course of five minutes, 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.
One man, with blood still on his shirt, said in a television interview that he hid from a gunman under a bench and prayed that he would run out of bullets.
“I was just praying to God and hoping our God, please, let this guy stop” Mahmood Nazeer told TVNZ.
“The firing went on and on. One person with us had a bullet in her arm. When the firing stopped, I looked over the fence, there was one guy, changing his gun.”
The video shows the gunman then driving off at high speed and firing from his car. Another video, taken by someone else, showed police apprehending a gunman on a pavement by a road.
Police said improvised explosive devices were found. The gunman’s video had shown red petrol canisters in the back of his car, along with weapons.
The New Zealand government said it could be illegal to share the video.
“Police are aware there is extremely distressing footage relating to the incident in Christchurch circulating online,” New Zealand police said in a Twitter post.
“We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed.”