A mass shooting at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch prompted a major police response on Friday afternoon. Police say at least 49 people were killed. Dozens of others were injured.
“This can only be described as a terrorist attack,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern said.
Police said a man in his 20s has been charged with murder. Three other suspects were taken into custody.
The three suspects in custody are directly linked to the attack, Ardern said. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the suspects is an Australian citizen. He said Australian authorities are providing assistance to officials in New Zealand.
“While we do not have anything to believe at this stage that there were any other suspects, we are not assuming that at this stage,” Ardern said, adding: “These are people that I would say have extremist views. They have no place in New Zealand or in the world.”
Ardern said she believes New Zealand was targeted because of its diversity and acceptance of people from all cultures.
“We New Zealanders were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone this racism, or because we are an enclave of extremism, we were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things,” she said.
Security around the country has been heightened in the wake of the terror attack.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the suspected gunmen targeted two mosques in the area, one located on Deans Avenue and one at Linwood Avenue. Both locations were placed on lockdown Friday.
Ardern confirmed that 41 people have been killed at the Deans Avenue mosque. Seven people were killed at the Masjid Al Noor mosque on Linwood Avenue. Forty-eight patients were being treated at a hospital in Christchurch.
Locals were urged to stay indoors while the police operation continues.
“We are currently dealing with an unprecedented situation in New Zealand,” Bush said.
“It doesn’t get any more serious in this country than this,” he said.
Bush confirmed there were a number of improvised explosive devices attached to vehicles in the area. He said the military had defused those devices.
Schools in Christchurch were on lockdown for a time on Friday afternoon, but those orders have since been lifted.
“We urge New Zealanders to stay vigilant and report any suspicious behavior immediately to 111,” the commissioner said.
Police are working nationally to bring in resources. All mosques nationwide were asked to shut their doors until further notice.
Eyewitnesses reported a man with a gun entered one of the city’s mosques at around 1:40 p.m. local time.
Police confirmed that there is distressing footage related to the shooting circulating on social media but are urging people not to share it.
During a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Ardern called this “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
“Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” Ardern said.
“Many of those impacted by the shootings may be migrants, and they have chosen to make New Zealand their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us — is not,” she said.
“It is clear that this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days”
“There is no place in New Zealand for such extreme acts of unprecedented violence.”
According to Radio New Zealand, there were up to 300 people inside the mosque for afternoon prayers.
A witness told Radio New Zealand that a man in a helmet and glasses and a military style jacket entered the mosque and began shooting with an automatic weapon.
Friday’s shooting marks one of the deadliest in New Zealand’s history.
Flags in Melbourne, Australia will be at half-mast in solidarity with the victims of the attack. Buildings in the city will be lit up in New Zealand’s colors.