Forty-nine people were killed in shootings at two mosques in central Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, in a terrorist attack that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described as “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”
• Officials said that one man in his late 20s had been charged with murder, and that two explosive devices were found attached to a vehicle they had stopped.
• A Muslim leader in New Zealand said the attack was especially shocking as it took place around Friday Prayer. The police urged people to stay away from the mosques until further notice.
• A video and manifesto that appeared to be by a gunman involved in the shooting were posted online on the day of the attack.
Two mosques are attacked
Shots were fired at Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue in the center of the city and at Linwood Mosque, about three miles away, the police said.
The country’s police commissioner, Mike Bush, said in an evening news conference that 41 people had been killed at Al Noor Mosque and seven at Linwood Mosque, and that a further victim had died at Christchurch Hospital.
The police said that four people, including three men and one woman, had been taken into custody. Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia said that one of them was Australian.
Bush said that a man in his late 20s had been charged with murder and would appear in Christchurch court Saturday morning. A number of firearms were recovered from the scenes of the shootings, he said.
Of the three others who were detained, the police commissioner said one might have had nothing to do with the attack and police were working to determine how the other two might have been involved.
Ardern said earlier that none of those detained were on security watch lists.
Two explosive devices were found on one vehicle, Bush said, adding that the police had defused one and were in the process of defusing the other.
Bush had earlier urged people not to go to mosques anywhere in New Zealand on Friday. He also urged mosques nationally to “close your doors until you hear from us again.”
— Charlotte Graham-Mclay and Megan Specia
Video appears to show part of the shooting
A 17-minute video posted to social media appears to show part of the attack.
The clip, which may have been taken from a helmet camera worn by a gunman, begins behind the wheel of a car. A man, whose face can occasionally be seen in the rearview mirror, drives through the streets of Christchurch before pulling up in front of Al Noor Mosque, beside the sprawling Hagley Park.
He approaches the mosque on foot, his weapon visible, and begins shooting at people at the entrance. What follows is a harrowing nearly two minutes of his firing on worshippers.
At one point the gunman exits the mosque and fires in both directions down the sidewalk before returning to his car for another gun — which, like the others, was inscribed with numbers, symbols or messages. When he re-enters the mosque, he shoots several bodies at close range.
After another few minutes, he returns to his vehicle and drives away.
“There wasn’t even time to aim, there was so many targets,” he says at one point, as the sirens of an emergency response vehicle blare in the background.
— Megan Specia and Jason Bailey
A white-nationalist manifesto
Before the shooting, someone appearing to be the gunman posted links to a white-nationalist manifesto on Twitter and 8chan, an online forum known for extremist right-wing discussions. The 8chan post included a link to what appeared to be the gunman’s Facebook page, where he said he would also broadcast live video of the attack.
The Twitter posts showed weapons covered in the names of past military generals and men who have recently carried out mass shootings.
In his manifesto, he identified himself as a 28-year-old man born in Australia and listed his white nationalist heroes.
Writing that he had purposely used guns to stir discord in the United States over the Second Amendment’s provision on the right to bear arms, he also declared himself a fascist. “For once, the person that will be called a fascist, is an actual fascist,” he wrote.
— Daniel Victor and Tiffany May
YouTube star ‘sickened’ by being cited in video
Felix Kjellberg, a polarizing YouTube celebrity known as PewDiePie, distanced himself from the attacks after the man who filmed himself shooting victims at a mosque encouraged viewers to “subscribe to PewDiePie” in a video livestream.
“I feel absolutely sickened having my name uttered by this person,” Kjellberg, a Swede, said on Twitter.
Kjellberg has courted controversy by performing anti-Semitic gestures, which he calls satirical, in his videos. He has a following of 89 million subscribers.
— Tiffany May
Scrutiny of social media postings
Over the last 18 months, tech companies have promised stronger safeguards to ensure that violent content is not distributed through their sites. But those new safeguards were not enough to stop the posting of a video and manifesto believed related to Friday’s shooting.
A 17-minute video that included graphic footage apparently of the shooting could be found on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram more than an hour after being posted. While Facebook and Twitter took down pages thought to be linked to the gunman, the posted content was spread rapidly through other accounts.
In order to evade detection, people appeared to be cropping the video or posting the text of the manifesto as an image — both of which are techniques used to evade automated systems that find and delete content.
Social media companies have heavily invested in those systems, with Facebook reporting last year that more than 99 percent of terrorism content by the Islamic State group and al-Qaida was found and removed through artificial intelligence.
A Facebook spokeswoman offered condolences to the victims and said the company was “removing any praise or support for the crime and the shooter or shooters as soon as we’re aware.”
— Sheera Frenkel and Daniel Victor
Waiting to hear from loved ones
Nasreen Hanif, a spokeswoman for the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, said little news was coming through about whether friends and relatives in Christchurch were safe, and the country’s Muslims were anxious for updates.
“Nobody’s answering their phones,” she said. “We don’t know if they’re at the hospital or out of reach. Some have posted that they are safe, but others have not.”
She added that because the affected mosques remained cordoned off, with bodies inside, people feared that their relatives or friends were among the dead.
“Parents are waiting to hear from their son who hasn’t been spotted,” she said. “They were supposed to have lunch with him after prayers.”
Hanif said the two mosques in Christchurch had asked for help from the rest of New Zealand’s Muslims to arrange the 49 funerals they would need to plan.
Even in the North Island city of Auckland, where she lives, she said people were cautious about leaving their homes.
— Charlotte Graham-Mclay
An attack during Friday Prayer
Moustafa Farouk, a spokesman for the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, said it was especially shocking that the attack occurred around Friday Prayer.
Farouk, who said in a telephone interview that he was on his way to Christchurch to meet with Muslims there, said he had never imagined that an attack of this kind could happen in New Zealand.
“It’s one of the most peaceful countries in the world,” he added, although he said that “this kind of random act of violence will affect that image.”
— Megan Specia
‘One of New Zealand’s darkest days’
Ardern called Friday “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
“What has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” the prime minister said at a news conference in New Plymouth, describing the shooting as “an act that has absolutely no place in New Zealand.”
“Many of those affected may be migrants to New Zealand — they may even be refugees here,” Ardern said of the victims. “They are one of us. The person who has perpetrated these acts is not.”
Ibrar Sheikh, the secretary of the Al Mustafa Jamia Masjid in south Auckland, described the two mosques targeted in Christchurch as “a United Nations” of ethnicities.
Queen Elizabeth II of Britain on Friday sent her condolences to New Zealand, which is a member of the Commonwealth. “At this tragic time, my thoughts and prayers are with all New Zealanders,” she said in a statement.
— Charlotte Graham-Mclay
‘My really good friend goes there’
Aman Singh, who works at a convenience store close to the Deans Avenue mosque, said he had heard the gunshots Friday afternoon, and shortly afterward people had streamed past the shop, bloody and crying.
Singh, 26, said he knew several people who worshipped at the mosque.
“My really good friend goes there,” he said, adding that he had not been able to confirm the friend’s whereabouts Friday afternoon.
Singh, who moved to New Zealand from India 4 1/2 years ago, was still hiding in the store with his wife, as the police had yet to arrive at their location.
He said it was unlikely they would be able to return home anyway, as their street was cordoned off because it was close to the Linwood Mosque that was also attacked.
— Charlotte Graham-Mclay
Murders are rare in New Zealand, but guns aren’t
Murders are rare in New Zealand, and gun homicides even rarer. There were 35 murders countrywide in 2017. And since 2007, gun homicides have been in the single digits each year except 2009, when there were 11.
But there are plenty of guns.
There were 1.2 million registered firearms in the country of 4.6 million people in 2017, according to the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss nonprofit.
A mass shooting in the New Zealand in 1990 — when a man killed 13 people, including two 6-year-olds, after a dispute with his neighbor in the seaside town of Aramoana — led directly to tightened gun laws, including restrictions on “military-style semiautomatic weapons.”
— Daniel Victor
Reporting was contributed by Charlotte Graham-McLay from Wellington, New Zealand; Megan Specia and Jason Bailey from New York; Daniel Victor and Tiffany May from Hong Kong; and Sheera Frenkel from San Francisco.