On what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labeled as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” 40 people were killed in shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, the worst act of violence in the country in nearly three decades.
While four people had been detained, police said, they warned locals to stay indoors and police asked mosques to close.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said he believed three men and one woman were in custody, but other suspects could be involved. Police are not assuming the incident was contained to the city, he said.
“Let’s not presume the danger is gone,” he said, adding that police had also defused a number of improvised explosive devices found on vehicles after the mosque shootings.
Bush also confirmed that video of the shooting was circulating on social media, but said that authorities were working to remove the “very disturbing” footage.
“Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” Ardern said.
She said the shootings appeared to have been a well-planned “terrorist attack.”
In announcing the grim death toll, Ardern said 20 others are seriously injured. It is the deadliest shooting in New Zealand since 1990, when David Gray killed 13 people before being shot and killed by police in the town of Aramoana, The Guardian reported.
Police confirmed two shooting locations: One at Linwood Avenue and one at Deans Avenue in the city.
“There are currently four individuals who have been apprehended but three are connected to this attack and are currently in custody, one of which has publicly stated that they were Australian born,” Ardern said.
“These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world.”
She said that authorities did not have any reason to believe there are other suspects, but were not assuming that, and that the national security threat level was lifted from low to high.
She said many of the people affected by the atrocity were immigrants who “were parts of communities that they loved and who loved them in return.”
She voiced “the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people who did this. You may have chosen us – we utterly reject and condemn you.”
A man dressed in black entered the Masjid Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue at about 1:45 p.m., witness Len Peneha said. Then, Peneha heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque.
The reported shooter fled the mosque and dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in Peneha’s driveway, he said. Peneha went into the mosque to try to help, he said.
“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said. “I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”
Police said there was a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque.
Contributing: Mike James, Jane Onyanga-Omara; The Associated Press