New Zealand’s Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern confirmed 40 people were killed and more than 20 were seriously injured in what she labeled a well-planned “terrorist attack” that targeted worshippers in two mosques in Christchurch on Friday.
The New Zealand police said four people — three men and one woman — were in custody in connection with the attack. Investigators later defused a number of improvised explosive devices that were found inside vehicles. Arden described the suspects as one principal, two associates and one person not directly connected to the attacks. She said the suspects were not on any security watch lists.
Thirty people were killed at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch and seven were slain inside the Linwood Masjid Mosque. Another three died outside the Linwood mosque.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the detainees was a 28-year-old white Australian-born citizen. He described the suspect as “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist.”
The suspects were apprehended by local police following Friday’s attack, Mike Bush, New Zealand’s police commissioner, told reporters at a news conference. No motive for the attack has been determined.
Investigators did not rule out that more suspects could be involved, he said.
Police were also working to remove an unconfirmed video that circulated online showing the Australian suspect entering a mosque and firing multiple shots at people inside. He claimed responsibility for the shooting and reportedly published a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto prior to the killings. He wrote that he traveled to the island nation to train and commit the attack.
In one video frame, the suspect is seen driving to the mosque with what appeared to be several semi-automatic weapons inside his vehicle.
Officers responded to a shooting at the Masjid Al Noor in Christchurch on Friday afternoon and also responded to a second shooting at the nearby Linwood Masjid mosque.
Authorities were not sure if any other locations were under threat and urged worshipers to refrain from visiting any mosque in the country, Bush said. A brief lockdown of Christchurch schools was lifted Friday evening.
Ardern said Friday’s events represented “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
Witnesses said the Masjid Al Noor mosque was full for Friday afternoon prayers when the shooting occurred. Len Peneha told the Associated Press that he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of gunshots. That was followed by terrified mosque-goers running from the terror. A suspect was seen outside, fleeing after dropping what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon, witnesses said.
“I saw dead people everywhere,” one nearby resident said.
Another witness told TVNZ he saw three women shot and bleeding outside the mosque. A third witness said a suspect fired more than 50 shots, Stuff.co.NZ reported.
“He had a big gun and a lot of bullets and he came through and started shooting, like, everyone in the mosque, like, everywhere, and they have to smash the door and the glass from the window and from the small door to try and get out,” he said.
Retno Marsudi, Indonesia’s foreign minister, said six Indonesians were inside the Al Noor Mosque when the shooting occurred and three escaped.
“We are looking for three other Indonesian citizens,” Marsudi said.
Members of the Bangladesh cricket team said they narrowly escaped the shooting at the Masjid Al Noor mosque. Players and coaching staff were reportedly getting off a bus when the shooting broke out. Tamim Iqbal, a batsman on the team, tweeted: “Entire team got saved from active shooters. Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers.”
Mario Villavarayen, a strength and conditioning coach with the team, told New Zealand media the players did not see the suspect but heard shots. He said the group was shaken but unhurt.
“I spoke to one of them shortly after,” Vllavarayen said. They didn’t see anything but heard gunshots. They were at the ground and just started running. The coaching staff were all at the hotel.”
The team reportedly fled the scene on foot to Hagley Oval where it was scheduled to play New Zealand on Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.