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Forty-nine killed in terrorist attack on New Zealand mosques

Police escort witnesses away from a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers, as New Zealand police warned people to stay indo
AP Photo/Mark Baker
A 'right-wing extremist' documented his assault in a disturbing graphic video filmed from inside the mosque

An Australian extremist killed forty-nine Muslim worshippers in shootings at two mosques in New Zealand, on Friday, in what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labeled a "terrorist attack."

The livestreamed attack on Muslims congregating for Friday afternoon prayers wounded at least 20 others and forced the New Zealand city of Christchurch into lockdown.

New Zealand police said they have detained four people in connection with the deadly shootings and had secured a number of improvised explosive devices attached to vehicles that they had stopped.

Witnesses spoke of victims being shot at close range, with women and children also believed to be among those killed.

"It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, saying it marked "one of New Zealand's darkest days".

"Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence."

The gunman at one mosque-- who documented the attack in a horrifyingly graphic video circulated online-- was an Australian-born citizen, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in Sydney, describing him as "an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist".

Video and documents circulating online -- but not officially confirmed -- suggested the shooter had streamed his attack on Facebook Live.

Police, who initially imposed a city-wide lockdown, sent armed officers to a number of scenes.

The prime minister described the arrested individuals as a one principal suspect, two associates, and one person not directly involved in the attacks.

In a social media post just before the shooting, an online account suspected to belong to one of the attackers linked to an 87-page manifesto filled with anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric and motivations for an attack.

Within the manifesto, which as not been officially confirmed to belong to the attacker, the author said he identifies as a supporter of Donald Trump "as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose."

AP Photo/Mark Baker

- 'Darkest day' -

An ashen-faced Ardern told reporters the attacks had been "an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence".

Shots were fired at two mosques located about three miles away from one another.

The Al Noor Mosque in central Christchurch was filled with worshippers when the attack happened, as was a mosque in suburban Linwood.

Ardern said 30 people were killed at Al Noor Mosque and 10 others died at Linwood Mosque. Forty-eight people were being treated for gunshot wounds, a health board official reported.

One witness told stuff.co.nz he was praying when he heard shooting -- and then saw his wife lying dead.

Another man said he saw children being shot on the footpath outside when he fled.

"There were bodies all over," he said.

AFP

A Palestinian man who was in one of the mosques said he saw someone being shot in the head.

"I heard three quick shots, then after about 10 seconds it started again. It must have been an automatic -- no one could pull a trigger that quick," the man, who did not wish to be named, told AFP.

"Then people started running out. Some were covered in blood," he said, adding that he joined the fleeing crowd and managed to escape.

ESPN Cricinfo reporter Mohammed Isam said members of the Bangladesh cricket team, who are due to play a Test match in Christchurch tomorrow escaped from the mosque.

"They ran back through Hagley Park back to the Oval," he tweeted.

Police warned Muslims all over the country not to visit mosques "anywhere in New Zealand." Friday is Islam's holy day.

An eyewitness told Radio New Zealand he heard shots fired and four people were lying on the ground, with "blood everywhere".

Unconfirmed reports said the shooter was a wearing military-style clothing.

Police warn of 'distressing' mosque shooting footage

Police warned against sharing footage relating to the deadly shooting after a video online showed a gunman filming himself firing at worshippers inside a mosque.

"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."

AFP analysed 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, according to the copy of the video that AFP found on YouTube.

AFP confirmed the video was genuine through a digital investigation that included matching screenshots of the mosque taken from the gunman's footage with multiple images available online showing the same areas.

This included the entrance of the mosque, which has a number of distinct features such as a fence, postbox and doorway.

AFP

Inside the mosque, the gunman's footage showed distinctively patterned green carpet that also matched images tagged on Google Maps as being at the same location.

Distinctive writing on the gunman's weapons seen in the footage also matched images posted on a Twitter account using the same name and cartoon profile picture as the Facebook Live video.

A lengthy manifesto posted on the same Twitter account detailed racial motivations for the attack.

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.

"You may have chosen us -- we utterly reject and condemn you."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her nation was not targeted because it was an enclave for racism, but because New Zealand represents diversity and kindness.

Here are some of the remarks from an address to her nation in the wake of the attacks:

"We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism."

"We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things.

"Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.

"We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages. And amongst that diversity we share common values. And the one that we place the currency on right now is our compassion and support for the community of those directly affected by this tragedy.

"And secondly, the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people who did this.

"You may have chosen us -- we utterly reject and condemn you."

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.

This is a developing story.

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