Police say four people are in custody, but warn people to remain indoors during active shooter situation
Christchurch is placed on lockdown in active shooter situation (Reuters)
Multiple people were killed at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday, when at least one gunman opened fire on worshippers, police said.
Local media reports said as many as 27 people were dead, and the city was placed on lockdown as police hunted for an “active shooter”. There had as yet been no official confirmation on the number of casualties.
Witnesses told local media that a man dressed in a military-style camouflage outfit and carrying an automatic rifle had randomly shot people at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Hagley Park.
A second shooting took place at a mosque in the suburb of Linwood.
“This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. “Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”
Police said they had four people in custody – three men and one woman, but they were not sure if others were involved and were still treating the case as an “active shooter” situation.
Police commissioner Mike Bush said multiple improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were found on cars, but that they have been disabled.
“No one in the country must go to a mosque under any circumstances,” Bush said.
“A serious and evolving situation is occurring in Christchurch with an active shooter,” Bush added.
“As far as we know,” the fatalities occurred at two mosques, Bush said.
People in centre of the city should stay indoors, police said. All Christchurch schools and council buildings had been placed on lockdown.
PM Ardern expressed sorrow for the victims and asked people to remain indoors.
“Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home,” she said.
“Please remain in lockdown. We are potentially still dealing with an evolving situation,” she added.
One witness at the Masjid Al Noor Mosque told the New Zealand Herald that he has friends still in the mosque.
“I still have friends inside. I have been calling my friends but there are many I haven’t heard from. I am scared for my friends’ lives,” said Mohan Ibrahim.
New Zealand Muslim communities expressed shock and sadness at the unfolding event.
“In terms of community, we are definitely in shock by what has happened as the news is coming in. We all know that New Zealand is a peaceful country, and we would never expect something like this here. We are completely shocked,” Tahir Nawaz, president of the International Muslim Association of New Zealand, told Middle East Eye.
Still, he added, the event will help bring people together to combat hatred.
“The community is already supporting us, the Muslim community is helping each other and also the other communities, the other communities are supporting us as well,” he said.
“They’ve already started sending flowers and asking about our needs such as food as such. We are really impressed with our community in terms of the way they are already supporting us.”
The Bangladesh cricket team was going to Friday prayers at the Masjid Al Noor Mosque when the shooting occurred, but all members were safe, a team coach told Reuters.
“They were on the bus, which was just pulling up to the mosque when the shooting begun,” Mario Villavarayen, strength and conditioning coach of the Bangladesh cricket team, told Reuters in a message.
“They are shaken but good.”
Muslims account for slightly more than 1 percent of New Zealand’s population, a 2013 census showed.