At least 49 people have been killed in a terror attack on two mosques in New Zealand.
The co-ordinated attacks in Christchurch, which has also left 20 people seriously injured, took place at Masjid Al Noor and the Linwood Masjid mosques.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it appeared to be a well-planned ‘terrorist attack’ and described it as ‘one of New Zealand’s darkest days’.
She added: ‘We have undoubtedly experienced an attack today that is unprecedented, unlike anything that we have experienced before.
‘But New Zealand has been chosen because we are not a place where violent extremism exists.
The main gunman – Brenton Tarrant – appears to have live-streamed the attack on Facebook. Police have urged the public not to share the “extremely distressing” material online.
Police confirmed a male in his late 20s has been charged with murder and is due to appear at a Christchurch court on Saturday morning.
Two men and one woman are also in custody over the attacks. Police believe one of the arrested may have had nothing to do with the incident and are working to understand what the involvement of the other two people may be.
At least 41 people were killed at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch while at least seven people died inside the suburban Linwood Masjid mosque, and one person died in hospital.
International condemnation was led by the Queen, who sent a message of condolence to New Zealanders.
The White House called it a ‘vicious act of hate’ and US president Donald Trump called it a ‘horrible massacre’.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis voiced his solidarity with Muslims in the wake of the attack and said he was ‘deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life’.
The Queen has sent the following message to the people of New Zealand.
I have been deeply saddened by the appalling events in Christchurch today. Prince Philip and I send our condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives…(1/2)
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) March 15, 2019
Mike Bush, New Zealand police commissioner said the ‘abhorrent’ attacks were officially classified as a ‘terrorist event’.
My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2019
The 28-year-old suspect was described by Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison as an ‘extremist right-wing violent terrorist’.
The suspected gunman posted a 73-page manifesto to Twitter before the killings, predicting a ‘terrorist attack’.
In the manifesto he praised President Trump as ‘a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose’.
He also live-streamed the attacks online via a Facebook feed and name-checked the YouTube star PewDiePie.
His weapon appeared to be marked with the names of other people who have carried out such attacks.
Another man was arrested while wearing a suicide explosive vest, said reports, while a third person was detained while wearing military fatigues outside a high school.
Multiple bombs were attached to two cars belonging to the suspects as well.
Asked if if the terrorists had appeared on any intelligence watch-lists, New Zealand’s prime minister said: ‘My understanding at this stage is that they weren’t on watch-lists.’
The shootings started at around 1.40pm local time.
The mayor of Christchurch Lianne Dalziel said the city was in shock: ‘It just feels like it’s not what would happen in a place like New Zealand.’
As many as 300 people were thought to be in the Al Noor mosque for Friday prayers when the shooting started.
One witness, Len Peneha, told Associated Press he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots.
He also said he saw the gunman flee before emergency services arrived. Peneha said he went into the mosque to try to help: ‘I saw dead people everywhere.’
Another witness told TVNZ he had not seen his wife, who was also in Al Noor, since the shooting.
The man, who was in a wheelchair, pushed himself out to the car park.
‘It was very peaceful, calm and quiet, as it is when the sermon starts, you could hear a pin drop. Then suddenly the shooting started,’ he said.
‘I saw about 20-plus people, some were dead, some were screaming. On the left there were 10 plus people, some were dead.’
One more witness, Mahmood Naseur, told TV New Zealand: ‘One person we saw was hit with a bullet in her hand and her arm.
‘And when the firing stopped, I just have a look from over the fence, there was one guy changing the gun in the driveway next to the mosque, and he just took the gun and then started firing again.’
Among those caught up in the shooting were the Bangladesh cricket team, who were outside the Al Noor mosque when the attack started.
All players and staff were safe, said officials. The team was due to play the final Test match of their NZ tour in Christchurch on Saturday. The game has now been cancelled.
Among those condemning the attack was All Black star Sonny Bill Williams.
The Muslim rugby player said he was sending his prayers to the families of those killed and is ‘deeply, deeply saddened’ by the attack, in a video posted online.
The 33-year-old said: ‘Just heard the news and I couldn’t put it into words how I’m feeling right now.’
British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the ‘sickening’ attack and sent her ‘deepest condolences to the people of New Zealand’.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK ‘stands with’ New Zealand after the attacks.
He tweeted: ‘Our hearts go out to the people of New Zealand following the news of this terrible act in Christchurch.
‘NZ is one of the most peaceful, peace-loving and generous nations in the world. Your friends in the UK stand with you today in deepest sympathy.’