At least 49 people who were attending Friday prayers at two separate mosques in New Zealand have been killed in mass shootings, in what the country’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern is calling “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence” as well as a terrorist attack undertaken by at least one self-avowed white nationalist.
On Friday afternoon, an attacker opened fire on worshippers at Al Noor Mosque and then Linwood Mosque in Christchurch. According to the country’s police commissioner, Mike Bush, 41 people had been killed at Al Noor Mosque, seven at Linwood Mosque, and one victim died after being transported to a hospital. An additional 48 people were injured.
According to officials, four people—three men and one woman—were initially taken into custody; one of them, a man in his late 20s born in Australia has been charged with murder. While one of the remaining three suspects is believed to not be involved in the attack, the Guardian reports that the other two “armed suspects” were being held in custody. Police are still trying to confirm their role in the shooting.
The man charged with murder will appear in court on Saturday. While police have not released the names of any of the suspects, the attacker, a 28-year-old man, appears to have written a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto before carrying out the attack. From the New York Times:
Before the shooting, someone appearing to be the gunman posted links to a white-nationalist manifesto on Twitter and 8chan, an online forum known for extremist right-wing discussions. The 8chan post included a link to what appeared to be the gunman’s Facebook page, where he said he would also broadcast live video of the attack.
The Twitter posts showed weapons covered in the names of past military generals and men who have recently carried out mass shootings.
In his manifesto, he identified himself as a 28-year-old man born in Australia and listed his white nationalist heroes.
Writing that he had purposely used guns to stir discord in the United States over the Second Amendment’s provision on the right to bear arms, he also declared himself a fascist. “For once, the person that will be called a fascist, is an actual fascist,” he wrote.
His manifesto also references right-wing American figures, including Candace Owens and an infamous YouTuber. The intentions of the document are unclear. Many have warned against reading its tone as sincere, noting that it relies on ironic language specific to online groups.
One witness, Len Peneha, who lives next door to the Al Noor Mosque told the Associated Press he saw a white man dressed in black and wearing a helmet with a device attached to it enter the mosque before hearing dozens of shots:
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.”
According to the New York Times, the shooter apparently livestreamed his attack:
A 17-minute video posted to Facebook shows part of the attack.
The clip, which may have been taken from a helmet camera worn by a gunman, begins behind the wheel of a car. A man, whose face can occasionally be seen in the rearview mirror, drives through the streets of Christchurch before pulling up in front of Al Noor Mosque, beside the sprawling Hagley Park.
He approaches the mosque on foot, his weapon visible, and begins shooting at people at the entrance. What follows is a harrowing nearly two minutes of his firing on worshipers.
At one point the gunman exits the mosque and fires in both directions down the sidewalk before returning to his car for another gun — which, like the others, was inscribed with numbers, symbols or messages. When he re-enters the mosque, he shoots several bodies at close range.
After another few minutes, he returns to his vehicle and drives away.
“There wasn’t even time to aim, there was so many targets,” he says at one point, as the sirens of an emergency response vehicle blare in the background.
Here’s a horrifying description from the Associated Press:
The gunman spends more than two minutes inside the mosque spraying terrified worshippers with bullets again and again, sometimes re-firing at people he has already cut down.
He then walks outside to the street, where he shoots at people on the sidewalk. Children’s screams can be heard in the distance as he returns to his car to get another rifle.
The gunman then walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground. After walking back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where the song “Fire” by English rock band “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown” can be heard blasting from the speakers. The singer bellows, “I am the god of hellfire!” and the gunman drives away. The video then cuts out.
According to news reports, the gunman came to New Zealand for the express purpose of planning and training for the attack, said he acted alone, and that while he wasn’t a member of any white nationalist groups, he had donated money and interacted with several. He chose New Zealand as the site of his attack to make a point about the impact of “mass immigration.”
Of the victims, Prime Minister Ardern said at a press conference that “they have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.” One of Ardern’s party’s campaign promises was to raise the number of refugees New Zealand would take in; last year, Ardern announced that beginning in 2020, the country would raise its refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500. “Extremist views,” she added, “have absolutely no place in New Zealand.”