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Christchurch shootings at two mosques leave 'significant' number of people dead, Australian in custody

ABC News logo ABC News 15/03/2019

An Australian is among four who have been arrested after multiple people were killed in mass shootings in two Christchurch mosques, in what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has labelled "one of New Zealand's darkest days".

Automatic weapons were used on worshippers and police have confirmed a "significant" number of fatalities occurred in two locations: a mosque at Deans Avenue in central Christchurch and another mosque in the nearby suburb of Linwood.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed one of the people taken into custody was an Australian-born citizen.

The ABC has identified Grafton man Brenton Tarrant as the man visible in GoPro footage of the attack.

"I can confirm that the individual who was taken into custody I have been advised is an Australian-born citizen," Mr Morrison said.

"Obviously that element of the investigation Australian authorities are involved in, and they will be proceeding with their investigation, which has already been stood up, involving all the relevant agencies.

"We will keep Australians safe in every way possible we can."

New Zealand police confirmed in the hours after the shootings they had taken three men and a woman into custody

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were found on nearby vehicles used by the suspects, but have since been disarmed by the defence force.

Reports also claimed one of the shooters had an IED strapped to his person, but NZ police confirmed he has also been made safe.

"There have been huge acts of bravery to apprehend these people, but let's not assume that the threat is over. We are as visually equipped as we can be," NZ Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.

"As you can imagine this is requiring every police and emergency resource that we have available. We have defence force aircraft in Wellington ready to fly more resources into the area, and we will do that from other locations nearby as well.

"This is absolutely tragic. There will be so many people affected."

A lockdown on all Christchurch schools has been lifted by police, and earlier a nearby students' climate strike was evacuated.

All hospitals in the area have locked their doors, admitting only clear emergencies.

People in central Christchurch have been urged to stay indoors and report any suspicious behaviour immediately to authorities.

Ms Ardern said neither she nor police were yet in a position to confirm numbers of fatalities and casualties.

"I would describe it as an unprecedented act of violence, an act that [has] absolutely no place in New Zealand," Ms Ardern said.

"This is not who we are.

"It has occurred in a place where people should have been expressing their religious freedom, where they should have been in a safe environment and they have not been today.

"The people who were subject of this attack today, New Zealand is their home, they should be safe here."

Mr Morrison said Australia was grieving with New Zealanders over the "extremist, right-wing terrorist attack".

"As family members with our New Zealand cousins today, we grieve, we are shocked, we are appalled, we are outraged, and we stand here and condemn absolutely the attack that occurred today by an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist," he said.

'Distressing' footage of attacks spread online

New Zealand police said they were aware of "extremely distressing footage", recorded and streamed live by an alleged gunman, which was widely spread in the immediate aftermath.

The video shows a gunman entering a mosque and opening fire on dozens of people, before fleeing in a vehicle. He continues to fire his automatic weapon out the window of the car.

"We would strongly urge that the link not be shared," NZ Police said on Twitter.

"We are working to have any footage removed."

Mr Bush also said the video "should not be in the public domain" and confirmed police were trying to remove it.

The ABC has decided not to broadcast any of the video footage, nor take any quotes from alleged manifesto that has also been shared online.

'I saw dead people everywhere'

The mosques were reportedly busy at the time of the attacks due to Friday prayers.

Witnesses have described what happened when the first shooter entered the Al Noor mosque. Farid Ahmed was in his wheelchair when the shooting occurred.

"It was very peaceful, calm and quiet, as it is when the sermon starts, [you could hear] a pin drop," Mr Ahmed said.

"Then suddenly the shooting started. It started in the main room.

"I was in the side room, so I didn't see who was shooting but I saw that some people were running out to my room where I was in, I saw some people had blood on their body and some people were limping. It was at the moment I realised things were really serious.

"So I tried to get out and I pushed myself at the back where my car was, and from there I heard the shooting, it went on six minutes or more.

"I could hear screaming and crying, I saw some people drop dead, some people were running away.

"I was in a wheelchair, so I couldn't get anywhere. He did his massacre inside the mosque."

Ahmad Al-Mahmoud described seeing a man open fire within one of the mosques, before he had to break a window to flee the scene.

"He had a big gun, and lots of bullets. And he came through and he started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere," Mr Al-Mahmoud said.

"They had to smash the door, the glass from the window and from the small door. We tried to get everyone to run away from the area because we couldn't open the door for everyone.

"I ran away from the carpark, jumping over the back fence. I haven't seen the guy correctly, but he was wearing a helmet."

Another witness who has lived next door to the mosque for about five years said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway, and fled.

Len Peneha said he then went into the mosque to try and help the victims.

"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."

Janine Richmond, who lives nearby the mosque, said she heard about 20 gunshots.

"It started off quite slowly and then got very rapid," she told NZ media.

Shrinivas Chandrasekaran, an analyst with the Bangladeshi cricket team currently touring in Christchurch, said the entire Test team had been near the mosque at the time of the attack.

"Entire team got saved from active shooters!!! Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers," Mr Chandrasekaran wrote.

In photos: New Zealand shootings

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