New Zealand mosque shootings kill 49 in what PM calls 'terrorist attack'

Reuters Christchurch, New Zealand Mar 15, 2019, 05.25 PM(IST)

AOS (Armed Offenders Squad) push back members of the public following a shooting at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photograph:( Reuters )

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A gunman broadcast livestream footage on Facebook of the attack on one mosque in the city of Christchurch, mirroring the carnage played out in video games, after publishing a "manifesto" in which he denounced immigrants, calling them "invaders".

At least one gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 40 during Friday prayers at two New Zealand mosques in the country's worst ever mass shooting, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned as terrorism.

A gunman broadcast live stream footage on Facebook of the attack on one mosque in the city of Christchurch, mirroring the carnage played out in video games, after publishing a "manifesto" in which he denounced immigrants, calling them "invaders".

New Zealand was placed on its highest security threat level, Ardern said, adding that "this can now only be described as a terrorist attack".

"We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are enclave for extremism," Ardern said in a national address. "We were chosen for the fact that we are none of these things. It was because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values.

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

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said 49 people had been killed in total. Health authorites said 48 people were being treated for gunshot wounds, including young children.

The video footage widely circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, showed him driving to one mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people inside.

Worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, lay huddled on the floor, the video showed. Reuters was unable to confirm the authenticity of the footage.

One man who said he was at the Al Noor mosque told media the gunman was white, blond and wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest. The man burst into the mosque as worshippers were kneeling for prayers.

"He had a big gun ... he came and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere," said the man, Ahmad Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.

Forty-one people were killed at the Al Noor mosque, seven at a mosque in the Linwood neighbourhood and one died in hospital, police said. Hospitals said children were among the victims.

The visiting Bangladesh cricket team was arriving for prayers at one of the mosques when the shooting started but all members were safe, a team coach told Reuters.

Three Bangladeshis were among the dead and one was missing, the consulate said.