40 killed in mass shooting at New Zealand mosque, officials say

U.S. & World
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At least 40 people were killed and four were in custody after shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday.

Authorities said while they were not aware of any other suspects, police were not making assumptions.

“This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. She later confirmed that 40 worshippers were dead. “Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”

Officers responded to reports of shots fired in central Christchurch around 1:40 p.m. Friday (8:40 p.m. Thursday ET), police said in a statement. All schools in the city were placed on lockdown, and residents were urged to remain indoors as the situation unfolded. Police had also asked all mosques in New Zealand to close to their doors.

At a news conference several hours after the shooting, the police commissioner said that four people — three men and a woman — were in custody and that the situation was “moving quite quickly.”

“We are not aware of other people, but we cannot assume there are not others at large,” Bush said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that he was advised that one of those in custody is an Australian-born citizen, and he condemned the attack “by an extremist right-wing violent terrorist.”

He added that Australian authorities would also be investigating.

Len Peneha who lives near one of the mosques 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, the Associated Press reported.

Peneha told the AP that he went into the mosque to try and help and “saw dead people everywhere.”

Peneha said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway and fled.

A member of the mosque told local media at the scene that he was in a side room where the imam was speaking and it was peaceful and quiet when “suddenly, the shooting started.” He did not see the shooter, but saw people running.

“The attackers” were apprehended by local police staff, said Bush, who praised officers and their “absolute acts of bravery” in their response.

Law enforcement will continue to be very visible, the commissioner said, warning residents not to “presume that the danger is gone.”

There were “a number of IEDs attached to vehicles that we also stopped,” and the improvised explosive devices have been made safe, he said. “But that does go to the seriousness of the situation,” Bush said.

He said that authorities had not yet conclusively determined the motivation behind the shootings. When asked if Friday’s violence was being classified as a terrorist attack, Bush said “we are still looking at the circumstances that surround that.”

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