At Least 49 Killed In Attacks at New Zealand Mosques; Man Charged With Murder [UPDATING]

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At least 49 people have been murdered in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. New Zealand’s prime minister called the killings a terrorist attack.

New Zealand police commissioner Mike Bush said in a press briefing on Friday that at least one person, a man in his late 20s, has been charged with murder. Three other people were taken into custody, but Bush said that one of them appeared not to have been involved in the killings, and that the involvement of the other two has not been determined yet.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that an Australian had been taken into custody and that the attacks had been carried out by an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist.”

The Associated Press reported that a man claiming responsibility for the killings “left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for the attack” and that he “said he was a 28-year-old white Australian and a racist.”

“For once, the person that will be called a fascist, is an actual fascist,” he wrote, according to the New York Times. 

At an earlier briefing, Bush said that a number of improvised explosive devices were found on cars, but they are no longer a threat. “This speaks to the seriousness of what occurred,” Bush said.

The commissioner said that the event was “absolutely tragic and there will be so many people affected.”

Questioned about the existence of a livestreamed video of the attack, Bush responded: “It’s very disturbing, it shouldn’t be in the public domain.”

“Let’s not assume the danger is gone,” he added.

The deadliest massacre occurred at Christchurch’s Masjid Al Noor mosque.

From the AP:

Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.

Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway, and fled. He said he then 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,” he said. “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. He said 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,” he said. “I just don’t understand it.”

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

According to The Guardian, shots were also reported at a second location, and an explosive device was reported in a crashed car.

The Guardian said that there were reports of at least 20 shots fired inside a mosque and the nearby Hagley Park in central Christchurch.

From The Guardian:

Eleanor Ainge Roy, our reporter on the ground in Christchurch, says that armed officers are entering Deyell Crescent, south of the Botanic Gardens and Al Noor Mosque, where the shootings took place.

She reports the whole street has been evacuated and the street is being guarded by armed offices.

There were also reports of a crashed Subaru and fears that it may have explosives inside.

“You’re not safe here, there’s a bomb in that car,” a senior police officer told Guardian reporter Roy. Police and reporters have were moved back from the area. The Bangladesh cricket team was apparently inside the mosque at the time of the shooting.

This event took place on the same day as students staged school walkouts and protests against climate change across the country. Those protests in Christchurch were evacuated, according to The Guardian.

Schools in central Christchurch were also placed on lockdown, according to New Zealand police.

Update, 10:50 p.m.:

TVNZ has spoken to a witness who says the shooting lasted for 20 minutes, with a gunman walking from room to room targeting people.

“His brother was at the mosque with him and he doesn’t know if he is OK,” The Guardian writes.

Christchurch Hospital, which is less than two miles from the site of the shooting, is on lockdown. They are treating people injured in the shooting.

Sources tell The Guardian that the police are searching for three people and a white van. No news on whether any suspects have been captured at this time.

Update, 11:00 p.m.:

Bloomberg has images of the scene of the attack and a video of an apparent witness.

Update, 11:15 p.m.:

In a Twitter post and video on Facebook, New Zealand police confirm “a number of fatalities.” Police say one suspect is in custody, but they believe other suspects may be involved.

“We are dealing with a serious and tragic series of events in the Christchurch Cantebury area,” the police official said. “The multiple fatalities, as far as we know, are at two locations, a mosque at Deans Ave., and a mosque at Linwood Ave.”

“We are unsure if there are any other locations outside of that area that are under threat,” he continued.

The official recommended that mosques across the country keep their doors closed.

Update, 11:30 p.m.: In a brief press conference, Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern has called the attacks “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” according to The Guardian.

Ardern said the shootings were “an unprecedented act of violence” and said the perpetrator “has no place in New Zealand.”

“I’m not currently in a position to confirm casualties or injuries,” she added, but said “this is a significant event.”

Update, 11:50 p.m.:

Australian leadership, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and opposition leader Bill Shorten, have issued statements about the attack.

Update, 11:55 p.m.:

New Zealand police posted about the existence of a video that seems to show the attack from a shooter’s perspective.

Splinter has reached out to the White House for comment and will update if we receive a response.

Update, 3/15/19, 12:15 a.m.:

The U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa has tweeted a statement about the attack.

Update, 7:12 a.m. ET: This story has been updated to include the latest death toll and information about the suspected attackers.

Update, 3:45 p.m. ET: The New York Times reported that 48 people were being treated for injuries at Christchurch Hospital, according to David Meates, chief executive of the Canterbury District Health Board.

The U.N. told the Washington Post that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “is shocked and appalled at the terrorist attack” at the two mosques, and urges people everywhere to “counter Islamophobia and eliminate intolerance and violent extremism.”

Media coverage of the attack has heavily focused on the livestream of the shooter’s rampage, as well as a white supremacist manifesto rooted in racism and language heavily associated with internet trolls in far-right online spaces. The writer of the manifesto is thought to be the alleged shooter, though police have not released more identifying information about the shooter himself.

Social media sites have tried to scrub the shooter’s livestream and the manifesto from their platforms, though reposters have attempted to avert these efforts by sharing cropped versions of the video and screenshots of the manifesto. A Facebook spokeswoman told the Times that the company was “removing any praise or support for the crime and the shooter or shooters as soon as we’re aware.” YouTube said it removed thousands of related videos, and asked users to flag videos related to the shooting. A spokeswoman for Reddit told the Times the platform was trying to remove “any content containing links to the video stream or the manifesto.”