Mass shootings at New Zealand mosques leave 49 dead, scores injured
Australian extremist among 4 persons held
Christchurch, Mar 15 (AP) Mass shootings at two mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers killed 49 people in New Zealand as authorities charged one person, detained three others and defused explosive devices in what appeared to be a carefully planned racist attack.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence” and acknowledged many of those affected may be migrants and refugees. In addition to the dead, she said more than 20 people were seriously wounded.
“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said.
Police took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation of 5 million people. One of the suspects was later charged with murder.
While there was no reason to believe there were more suspects, Ardern said the national security threat level was being raised to the second-highest level.
Authorities have not specified who they detained, but said none had been on any watch list. A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for the attack. He said he was a 28-year-old white Australian and a racist.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the four people detained was an Australian-born citizen.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said Friday night that a man had been charged with murder. He did not mention the other three suspects and did not say whether the same shooter was responsible for both attacks.
Ardern at a news conference alluded to anti-immigrant sentiment as the possible motive, saying that while many people affected by the shootings may be migrants or refugees “they have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.”
As for the suspects, Ardern said “these are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand.”
Bush said police had found two improvised explosive devices in one car, a clarification from an earlier statement that there were devices in multiple vehicles.
The deadliest attack occurred at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch at about 1:45 pm. At least 30 people were killed there.
Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.
Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway, and fled. He said he then went into the mosque to try and help.
“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. “It’s unbelievable nutty. I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”
He said he helped about five people recover in his home. He said one was slightly injured.
“I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly,” he said. “I just don’t understand it.” He said the gunman was white and was wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.
A video that was apparently livestreamed by the shooter shows the attack in horrifying detail. The gunman spends more than two minutes inside the mosque spraying terrified worshippers with bullets again and again, sometimes re-firing at people he has already cut down.
He then walks outside to the street, where he shoots at people on the sidewalk. Children’s screams can be heard in the distance as he returns to his car to get another rifle.
The gunman then walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground. After walking back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where the song “Fire” by English rock band “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown” can be heard blasting from the speakers.
The singer bellows, “I am the god of hellfire!” and the gunman drives away. The video then cuts out.
There was a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque that killed at least 10 people.
Mark Nichols told the ‘New Zealand Herald’ he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer-goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.
Nichols said he saw two injured people being carried out on stretchers past his automotive shop and that both people appeared to be alive.
The police commissioner warned anybody who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand on Friday to stay put.
The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting said he came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the attack. He said he was not a member of any organisation, but had donated to and interacted with many nationalist groups, though he acted alone and no group ordered the attack.
He said the mosques in Christchurch and Linwood would be the targets, as would a third mosque in the town of Ashburton if he could make it there.
He said he chose New Zealand because of its location, to show that even the most remote parts of the world were not free of “mass immigration.”
New Zealand is generally considered to be a welcoming country for immigrants and refugees. Last year, the prime minister announced the country would boost its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 starting in 2020.
Mosque shooter ‘a white nationalist seeking revenge’
Sydney, Mar 15 (AP) The gunman behind at least one of the mosque shootings in New Zealand that left 49 people dead on Friday tried to make a few things clear in the manifesto he left behind: He is a 28-year-old Australian white nationalist who hates immigrants. He was set off by attacks in Europe that were perpetrated by Muslims. He wanted revenge, and he wanted to create fear.
He also, quite clearly, wanted attention.
Though he claimed not to covet fame, the gunman — whose name was not immediately released by police — left behind a 74-page document posted on social media under the name Brenton Tarrant in which he said he hoped to survive the attack to better spread his ideas in the media.
And though he portrayed himself in his writings as quiet and introverted, he livestreamed to the world his assault on the worshippers at Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque.
That attack killed at least 41 people, while an assault on a second mosque in the city not long after killed several more. Police did not say whether the same person was responsible for both shootings.
While his manifesto and video were an obvious and contemptuous ploy for infamy, they do contain important clues for a public trying to understand why anyone would target dozens of innocent people who were simply spending an afternoon engaged in prayer.
There could be no more perplexing a setting for a mass slaughter than New Zealand, a nation so placid and so isolated from the mass shootings that plague the US that even police officers rarely carry guns.
Yet the gunman himself highlighted New Zealand’s remoteness as a reason he chose it. He wrote that an attack in New Zealand would show that no place on earth was safe and that even a country as far away as New Zealand is subject to mass immigration.
He said he grew up in a working-class Australian family, had a typical childhood and was a poor student. A woman who said she was a colleague of his when he worked as a personal trainer in the Australian city of Grafton said she was shocked by the allegations against him.
“I can’t … believe that somebody I’ve probably had daily dealings with and had shared conversations and interacted with would be able of something to this extreme,” Tracey Gray told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Beyond his white nationalistic ideals, he also considers himself an environmentalist and a fascist who believes China is the nation that most aligns with his political and social values. He has contempt for the wealthiest one percent. And he singled out American conservative commentator Candace Owens as the person who had influenced him the most.
In a tweet, Owens responded by saying that if the media portrayed her as the inspiration for the attack, it had better hire lawyers.
Throughout the manifesto, the theme he returns to most often is conflict between people of European descent and Muslims, often framing it in terms of the Crusades.
He wrote that the episode that pushed him toward violence took place in 2017 while he was touring through Western Europe. That was when an Uzbek man drove a truck into a crowd of people in Stockholm, killing five.
The Australian was particularly enraged by the death of an 11-year-old Swedish girl in the attack.
He said his desire for violence grew when he arrived in France, where he became enraged by the sight of immigrants in the cities and towns he visited.
And so he began to plot his attack. Three months ago, he started planning to target Christchurch. He claimed not to be a direct member of any organization or group, though he said he has donated to many nationalist groups.
He also claimed he contacted an anti-immigration group called the reborn Knights Templar and got the blessing of Anders Breivik for the attack.
Breivik is a right-wing Norwegian extremist who killed 77 people in Oslo and a nearby island in 2011. Breivik’s lawyer Oeystein Storrvik told Norway’s VG newspaper that his client, who is in prison, has “very limited contacts with the surrounding world, so it seems very unlikely that he has had contact” with the New Zealand gunman.
The gunman had a long wish list for what he hoped the attack would achieve. He hoped it would reduce immigration by intimidating immigrants.
He hoped to drive a wedge between NATO and the Turkish people. He hoped to further polarize and destabilize the West. And he hoped to create more conflict over gun laws in the US, thus leading to a civil war that would ultimately result in a separation of races.
Though he claimed not to be a Nazi, in the video he livestreamed of the shooting the number 14 is seen on his rifle. That may be a reference to the “14 Words,” a white supremacist slogan attributed in part to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He also used the symbol of the Schwarze Sonne, or black sun, which “has become synonymous with myriad far-right groups who traffic in neo-Nazi,” according to the center.
His victims, he wrote, were chosen because he saw them as invaders who would replace the white race. He predicted he would feel no remorse for their deaths. And in the video he livestreamed of his shooting, no remorse can be seen or heard. Instead, he simply says: “Let’s get this party started.”
Then he picks up his gun, storms into the mosque, and cuts down one innocent life after another. When it is over, he climbs back into his car, where he has left his music playing — the song “Fire” by the English rock band The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.