Agencies/ International media
Multiple people have been killed in mass shootings in at least two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday, according to authorities.
One person is in custody, “but we are unsure if there are other people” involved in the shootings or if any other locations are “under threat,” New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said in a statement broadcast on social media.
Police are mobilizing “every national police resource” to “keep people safe,” he said.
Bush issued a plea directed at New Zealand Muslims: “I want to ask anyone that was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand today, not to go, to close your doors until you hear from us again.”
Many Muslims would have been going to mosques for Friday prayers.
Police rushed to the central part of the city after reports of gunfire at 1:40 p.m. local time, the New Zealand Police said on its Twitter account. A mosque near Hagley Park and another in the Linwood neighborhood were attacked, authorities said.
Police urged people in central Christchurch to stay indoors and said schools were placed on lockdown.
“It is clear that this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
Some of those targeted may have been migrants, she said, or refugees. “They are us,” Ardern said. “The person who has perpetuated the violence against us is not.”
Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the Masjid al Noor mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.
Peneha, 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 semiautomatic weapon in Peneha’s driveway, and continued running.
Peneha said he went into the mosque to try to help.
“I saw dead people everywhere,” he said. “There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque.
“It’s unbelievable nutty. I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”
Ahmed al Mahmoud told reporters he was inside the mosque when a gunman wearing military-style clothing, including a helmet, sprayed the interior with gunfire. Al Mahmoud, whose hand was bleeding, said in a video on a Christchurch news site that he and others escaped by breaking a window in a door.
The Linwood Masjid, a few miles away, was also attacked.
Bangladesh cricket team almost caught up in mosque shooting
Mushfiqur Rahim, a member of Bangladesh’s cricket team, tweeted that the team, in the city for a competition, had been inside one of the mosques during the attack.
The Bangladesh cricket team was just pulling up at one of the two targeted mosques as the attack began, the team’s coach told CNN.
A video posted to Twitter showed the Bangladesh sportsmen walking away from the mosque as a police car heads in the opposite direction, sirens wailing.
The team were due to play against the New Zealand team in the coming week, but local media reporting the match has been cancelled.
A very peaceful mosque,” says local journalist
Journalist Chris Lynch, a radio host on New Zealand station ZB Radio, told CNN that one of the shootings had occurred at “the biggest mosque in all of Christchurch” and described it as “a very peaceful mosque.”
Lynch went on to describe how there is “literally nobody on the street” right now, adding that the scene was “quite stunning in some respects.”
He described Christchurch as a “very peaceful city” that is still getting over the devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit in 2011.
“That (earthquake) brought all the skyscraper buildings down and this is one of the reasons why people are fearful, I feel,” he told CNN.
New Zealand police: Don’t share video of the shooting
Police has asked social media users to stop sharing graphic footage circulating online relating to the incident in Christchurch.
“We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed,” the New Zealand police said.
Police earlier told CNN they were “aware” of a specific video, but were unable to confirm or deny its veracity.
The disturbing video which has not been verified by CNN, purportedly shows a gunman walking into the mosque and opening fire.
CNN is choosing not to publish additional information regarding the video until more details are available.
New Zealand only has a small Muslim population
Just 1% of New Zealand’s population of almost five million are Muslim, according to government statistics, less than 50,000 people in 2013.
“Muslims are the most rapidly growing religious group in New Zealand with the population increasing six-fold between 1991 and 2006,” according to Victoria University of Wellington research.
In comparison, New Zealand has a much higher population of Christians, including Catholics, Anglicans and Presbyterians, as well as Hindu and Buddhist citizens.