New Zealand: Twin terrorist attacks kill dozens at Christchurch mosques

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02:49 mins.
15.03.2019

Twin mosque shootings leave 49 dead

At least 50 people have been killed in two attacks targeting Muslims in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. Officials have called it a "right-wing extremist terrorist attack." DW has the latest.

New Zealand's Muslim community was left reeling on Friday after at least one suspected right-wing extremist opened fire on two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

News of the attacks in New Zealand sparked outrage and mourning around the globe, with world leaders condemning the shootings, the deadliest in the country's modern history.

Crime | 18.03.2019

What you need to know:

  • Fifty people died and dozens of others were injured in the twin terror attacks, which were carried out as worshipers took part in Friday prayers.
  • At least one of the attacks was livestreamed on social media channels.
  • At one mosque, authorities said they found explosive devices, which they were able to secure before they detonated.
  • Police have asked mosques to close across New Zealand. Security was also tightened at mosques in Canada and the United States.
  • Police arrested and charged one man with murder over the attack. Two other armed suspects were also taken into police custody.
  • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the shootings "can now only be described as a terrorist attack" and called it one of New Zealand's "darkest days." She also vowed to reform the country's gun laws.
Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

'There was blood everywhere'

A witness said "there was blood everywhere," after a right-wing terror attack on two New Zealand mosques killed 50 on Friday. Another witness saw a man in black enter the Al Noor mosque during prayers in Christchurch and heard dozens of shots before fleeing, adding that he saw several dead on the scene. As of Friday afternoon 48 people, including children, were being treated for gunshot wounds.

Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

Twin attacks target two mosques

Police asked all mosques across New Zealand to close while they hunted those responsible for the twin attacks. Al Noor mosque (above) is approximately 7 kilometers across the city from Linwood Mosque, the site of the second shooting.

Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

City on lockdown

Police initially arrested four people, two of them armed, and later charged one with murder. An Australian man, Brenton Tarrant, is alleged to have filmed himself carrying out the shooting and streamed it on social media. A manifesto was also published online, praising white men who had carried out similar massacres. It also called US President Donald Trump a "symbol of renewed white identity."

Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

'Atmosphere of fear'

The attacker's stated aim was to "create an atmosphere of fear" and "incite violence" against Muslims. Police said they recovered several guns from the mosques and two explosive devices in two vehicles at the scene. While the suspects were unknown to police, they said the attack appeared to have been well planned. Police were not searching for other suspects, but were on alert

Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

Narrow escape as shock spreads

The world reacted in shock. Anger spread in some countries and security was heightened at prayers at this mosque in Bangladesh as news was released that the Bangladeshi cricket team had narrowly escaped the shooting. The players had arrived at one of the mosques as the attack was unfolding when they heard gunshots.

Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

'One of New Zealand's darkest days'

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the attack as terrorism, calling it "one of New Zealand’s darkest days." "Many directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here...They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not," she said.

Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

World in mourning

Friday sermons across the world were dominated by grief and prayers for the lives lost in the attack. Prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem (here) mourned the victims. Demonstrations in other major cities such as Sydney, Istanbul and London condemned global terror.

Christchurch grieves right-wing terror attack

Dismay at 'senseless violence'

Leaders across the world expressed solidarity with the victims and their families, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn outside New Zealand House in London. Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed solidarity against "racist hatred," and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called it an "attack on all of us." Queen Elizabeth was "deeply saddened," while other leaders expressed their outrage at hate speech.

All updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC)

20:50 Speaking at a press conference a day after the attack, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed to reform the country's relatively relaxed gun laws, after saying that the attacker acquired his weapons legally with a valid gun license.

"I can tell you one thing right now, our gun laws will change," Ardern said.

When asked by a reporter about the possibility of retaliation within the Muslim community over the attack, the prime minister rejected the question, saying: "I don't think that is in keeping with their values."

She added that the suspect who has been charged in the attack had traveled around the world and lived sporadically in Dunedin, a town south of Christchurch.

19:50 Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel described the attack as "an act of cowardice" and that the gunman wanted to target Christchurch and New Zealand "because we are a safe city and a safe country."

"He came here with hate in his heart and an intention to kill in his mind. He did not develop his hatred here — he came here to perform this act of terrorism," Dalziel said at a press conference on Saturday morning in New Zealand.

She added that Christchurch will continue to welcome people from all countries, saying: "Our community is strengthened by diversity."

17:50 Prosecutors in Bulgaria have launched a probe into a recent visit by the suspected gunman in the Christchurch attacks. The suspect visited the Balkan country last year in November and he claimed to want to visit historical sites, Bulgaria's public prosecutor, Sotir Tsatsarov, said. The investigation will try to determine "if he had other objectives."

In a live video posted by the suspect, a song was playing in the background which referenced Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, who is facing a war crimes tribunal in The Hague for genocide and other crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims.

17:30 Commenting again on the twin terror attacks in Christchurch, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the shootings were not only an attack on Muslims, but also on New Zealand's "open and tolerant society."

"We share these values with New Zealand and we share their horror and condemnation of this attack," Merkel said.

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00:33 mins.
DW News | 15.03.2019

Merkel: 'We share their horror and condemnation'

13:03 Facebook said: "We quickly removed both the shooter's Facebook and Instagram accounts and the video," along with "any praise or support for the crime."

12:38 Pope Francis, who leads the Catholic Church, expressed his heartfelt solidarity with New Zealanders, especially the Muslim community, after what he called "senseless acts of violence."

12:06 New York City Police Department (NYPD) said they have bolstered security at mosques across the city.

"Extra NYPD officers have been deployed visit Mosques through NYC during early morning prayers," said the department. "The NYPD is committed to the safety to all houses of worship, and the freedom to practice your religion freely without any fear."

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11:53 US President Donald Trump, who was referred to as "a symbol of renewed white identity" in the suspected attacker's manifesto, described the tragedy as a "horrible massacre."

"(Forty-nine) innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured," said Trump. "The US stands by New Zealand for anything we can do."

11:41 Helen Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand, called for a tightening of gun control laws, saying "people have to be fit and proper persons to have guns."

"Undoubtedly the law can be strengthened and improved," said Clark, who also led the UN Development Program. "Personally, I would be surprised if the New Zealand Parliament didn't accept that challenge head on to strengthen the law."

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01:02 mins.
DW News | 15.03.2019

New Zealand: Eyewitnesses describe encounter with shooter

10:59 British Queen Elizabeth II said she has been "deeply saddened by the appalling events in Christchurch."

"I also pay tribute to the emergency services and volunteers who are providing support to those who have been injured," the queen said in a statement. "At this tragic time, my thoughts and prayers are with all New Zealanders."

10:53 Facebook and Twitter announced they will remove videos of the attacks from their platforms.

10:49 At least three Bangladeshi citizens were killed and four more injured in the attack, according to the Consul of Bangladesh in Auckland.

10:12 The British Foreign Ministry has updated its travel advisory for New Zealand, urging its citizens to "remain vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities."

10:09 Police confirm operation in Dunedin. They described it as a "location of interest."

"Evacuations of properties in the immediate area have taken place as a precaution," said police.

09:52 One suspect has been released. Police said a person "was arrested earlier today however that was not related to these events." Three others remain in custody, including a 28-year-old man who has been charged with murder.

09:26 British counterterrorism authorities announced they have bolstered security patrols at mosques across the country. France has also taken steps to increase security at religious sites.

09:16 European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offered his "sincerest condolences to the loved ones of the victims and the community as a whole."

"This senseless act of brutality on innocent people in their place of worship could not be more opposite to the values and the culture of peace and unity that the European Union shares with New Zealand," Juncker said.

09:07 Police have raided a residence in the city of Dunedin, south of Christchurch, reported local Stuff news network.

08:57 European Council President Donald Tusk described the tragedy as "harrowing."

"The brutal attack in Christchurch will never diminish the tolerance and decency that New Zealand is famous for," Tusk said in a tweet. "Our thoughts in Europe are with the victims and their families."

08:17 New Zealand's Human Rights Commission urged people in the country "to stand together in unity."

"New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world and we welcome those of all religions and backgrounds," the Commission said. "We need to remember the power of diversity. Together we are stronger.

08:12 New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said at least one man has been charged with murder. Three others have been detained in connection with the attack.

"We believe one of those persons who was armed and was at the scene may have had nothing to do with this incident," Bush said. "The two other people that have been apprehended, again in possession of firearms in the general environment. We are working through to understand what their involvement is."

He also confirmed that two improvised explosive devices were discovered on one vehicle. Earlier reports had suggested that explosives were found on two vehicles. The suspects were not previously known to authorities, according to Bush.

08:07 British Prime Minister Theresa May described the tragedy as a "sickening act of violence."

"On behalf of the UK, my deepest condolences to the people of New Zealand after the horrifying terrorist attack in Christchurch," May said.

08:00 German Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the twin terror attacks in New Zealand, said government spokesman Steffen Seibert.

"I mourn with the New Zealanders for their fellow citizens who were attacked and murdered out of racist hatred while peacefully praying in their mosques," said Merkel. "We stand together against such acts of terrorism."

07:52 Australian police in the state of New South Whales have bolstered security. "Senior officers have also reached out to community and religious leaders across the state to provide support and reassurance," the police said. "Everyone should continue to go about their business without fear."

07:44 At least 48 people, including children, are receiving treatment for gunshot wounds, said David Meates, who leads the Canterbury District Health Board.

07:27 German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas condemned the attacks, describing them as a "brutal crime."

"In these difficult hours, we stand firmly by the side of our New Zealand friends," said Maas. "All our sympathies go out to the families and friends of the victims."

07:16 The train station in Auckland has been evacuated. Police said they conducted a controlled detonation and that it likely wasn't related to the Christchurch attacks.

07:13 British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt condemned the attacks. "Our hearts go out to the people of New Zealand following the news of this terrible act in Christchurch," Hunt said. "(New Zealand) 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."

07:08 Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the attacks, saying, "Terrorism does not have a religion."

"I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11 where Islam and 1.3 (billion) Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror by a Muslim," said Khan.

06:47 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attacks via tweet.

"On behalf of my country, I offer my condolences to the Islamic world and the people of New Zealand, who have been targeted by this deplorable act — the latest example of rising racism and Islamophobia," he said.

06:41 New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern described the tragic event as a terrorist attack.

"From what we know, it does appear to have been well planned," she said. "The attacks are not a reflection of who we are as a nation."

06:28 Authorities raised the threat level from low to high following the attacks.

06:22 Controversial YouTuber Felix Kjellberg, commonly known as PewDiePie, condemned the use of his name during the attack. One of the attackers reportedly shouted "subscribe to PewDiePie" while live-streaming the shooting.

"Just heard news of the devastating reports from New Zealand Christchurch," said the Swedish video game commentator. "I feel absolutely sickened having my name uttered by this person."

06:06 Police said they have set up a hotline for relatives seeking information on family members who may have been at one of the mosques.

05:58  Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that at least one of the attackers was an Australian-born citizen. He described the tragedy as a "right-wing extremist terrorist attack."

05:56 Australian lawmaker Mehreen Fahruqi said the attacks were motivated by "Islamophobic and racist hate that has been normalized and legitimized by some politicians and media."

"There is blood on the hands of politicians who incite hate," she said. "To me, there is a clear link between their politics of hate and this sickening, senseless violence in Christchurch."

05:50 Authorities have called off an international cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh. Players from the visiting team narrowly avoided the shooting at the al-Noor Mosque.

"Entire team got saved from active shooters," wrote Tamim Iqbal, Bangladesh's opening batsman, earlier on Twitter. "Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers.

05:37 Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said at least six Indonesians were present at the al-Noor Mosque when one of the shootings occurred. At least three of them escaped, she said. "We are looking for three other Indonesian citizens."

Read more: Gun control: 'Conservatives must say enough is enough'

05:31 Students have been allowed to leave schools after authorities lifted lockdowns in Christchurch. Police "thank the public for their ongoing cooperation."

"We would like to reassure members of the public that there is a large police presence in the city and the safety of the community is our priority," the police said.

05:28 New Zealand police have requested that all mosques in the country close their doors for now.

Read more: Mistrust and Islamophobia see dramatic rise in Germany's melting pot

05:00 Students participating in the city's Fridays for Future climate march were confirmed to be safe, Mayor Lianne Dalziel told the New Zealand site Newshub.

04:18 Police asked that people stop sharing the distressing video of the attack the alleged gunman streamed live on Facebook.

Witness: Dozens of shots

A witness to the shootings told Radio New Zealand that "there was blood everywhere." Another witness said he saw a man dressed in black enter the Masjid Al Noor mosque during Friday prayers in central Christchurch and heard dozens of shots before fleeing. He added that he thought saw several dead on the scene. 

In a purported manifesto, the alleged gunman made reference to Ebba Akerlund, an 11-year-old who was killed in a 2017 terror attack in Sweden carried out by a rejected Uzbek asylum-seeker. He also expressed admiration for US President Donald Trump "as a symbol of renewed white identity."

Many on Facebook and Twitter were quick to point out, however, that the rhetoric in the manifesto could be an attempt to bait the media.

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cmb, rs, ls, es/aw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)