New Zealand terrorist attack: 50 dead in Christchurch shooting
Updated 08:09, 17-Mar-2019
CGTN

· 50 dead, main suspect charged with murder

· New Zealand PM vows gun reform

· No Chinese nationals among casualties

The death toll from deadly shootings during Friday prayers at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch has risen to 50, with another 50 people injured in the massacre, police said on Sunday. 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Saturday that men, women and children are among those killed as well as injured.

The suspected shooter, Brenton Tarrant, has been charged with murder, said New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush on Sunday, adding that others had been arrested but that police did not believe they were involved in the attack.

Ardern said Friday the country's national threat level was lifted from low to high.

"It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack," Ardern said, "from what we know, it does appear to have been well planned."

Members of a family react outside the mosque following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. /Reuters Photo

Members of a family react outside the mosque following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. /Reuters Photo

Police said improvised explosive devices (IED), were found on a vehicle they stopped, and have been disarmed. 

No Chinese citizens were injured in the incident, said the Chinese Consulate-General in Christchurch Friday in a statement. 

The main suspect

The main suspect, Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, has appeared in a Christchurch District Court Saturday morning on a single murder charge, while the other two are still in custody, according to the police.

Police said the main suspect was a licensed gun owner who used five weapons during his rampage, including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns.

The main suspect intended to continue his attack and was arrested by two community police officers, New Zealand's prime minister said on Saturday, adding that there will be further charges.

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All suspects are all Australian citizens, but not in any watch list of New Zealand or Australia. 

Tarrant live-streamed footage of himself going room to room, victim to victim, shooting the wounded from close range as they struggled to crawl away.

Facebook said it "quickly" removed the live video but the live stream lasting 17 minutes was shared repeatedly on YouTube and Twitter, and internet platforms were scrambling to remove videos being reposted of the gruesome scene. 

"Police are aware there is extremely distressing footage relating to the incident in Christchurch circulating online," New Zealand police said in a Twitter post.  "We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed."

New Zealand PM vows gun reforms

New Zealand's prime minister vowed to toughen the country's gun laws after revealing Saturday that the suspect legally purchased the arsenal of firearms used in the massacre. 

Jacinda Ardern said the gunman, Brenton Tarrant, obtained a "Category A" gun license in November 2017 and began purchasing the five weapons used in Friday's attacks in the southern city of Christchurch the following month. 

The firearms included two semi-automatic rifles, two shotguns, and a lever-action weapon, she said, speaking to reporters in Wellington before heading to Christchurch. 

"One of the country's darkest days"

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks on live television following fatal shootings at two mosques in central Christchurch, New Zealand March 15, 2019. /Reuters Photo

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks on live television following fatal shootings at two mosques in central Christchurch, New Zealand March 15, 2019. /Reuters Photo

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the attack as an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence and "one of the country's darkest days."

The victims had chosen to make New Zealand their home. "They are us," she said. "The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not."

"We have asked all mosques nationally to shut their doors, and advise that people refrain from visiting these premises until further notice," police said on Twitter.

Mass shootings are rare in New Zealand, which tightened its gun laws to restrict access to semi-automatic rifles in 1992, two years after a mentally ill man shot dead 13 people in the South Island town of Aramoana.

What happened?   

According to witnesses, a man dressed in a military-style camouflage outfit came into the Al Noor mosque with an automatic rifle and started randomly shooting people.

About 300 people were reportedly inside the mosque when the attack took place.

Ambulances drive along a street after reports that several shots had been fired at a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. /Reuters Photo

Ambulances drive along a street after reports that several shots had been fired at a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. /Reuters Photo

A Palestinian man in the mosque, who declined to give his name, said he saw a man shot in the head. "I heard three quick shots, then after about 10 seconds, it started again. It must have been an automatic [weapon], no one could pull a trigger that quick," he told AFP. "Then people started running out. Some were covered in blood."

Shattered car window following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. /Reuters Photo

Shattered car window following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. /Reuters Photo

The shooter appeared to have live-streamed on Facebook of the shooting in the Al Noor mosque. A copy of a Facebook Live video that shows a clean-shaven, Caucasian man with short hair driving to a mosque, then shooting as he enters the building. The gunman continues to shoot at people inside the mosque, some of whom were trying to flee while others were huddled in corners of the building.

The Facebook account that posted the video was no longer available shortly after the shooting. The Twitter account of the same name was quickly suspended.

Screenshot from New Zealand Police's official Twitter account 

Screenshot from New Zealand Police's official Twitter account 

Linwood mosque was the other mosque that was targeted.

The nationalities of the victims included Indian, Pakistani, Malaysian, Indonesian, Egyptian, Bangladeshi, Saudi, Somalian and Turkish, authorities said.

World leaders react

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of condolence to New Zealand Governor-General Patsy Reddy on Friday over the deadly shooting incidents.

Xi expressed deep mourning for the victims and extended his condolences to the bereaved families.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated, "The urgency of working better together globally to counter Islamophobia and eliminate intolerance and violent extremism in all its forms."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the attack was an "extremist, right-wing violent terrorist."

U.S. President Donald Trump offered his "sympathy and best wishes" to New Zealand.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May offered her "deepest condolences to the people of New Zealand."

Britain's Queen Elizabeth, who is New Zealand's head of state, said she was "deeply saddened by the appalling events."

French President Emmanuel Macron called it an "odious attack" and said France stood "against any form of extremism."

(With inputs from AFP)

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