New Zealand experienced one of the worst instances of extremist violence in its history on Friday when 49 people were gunned down at two mosques in Christchurch. This is how the tragic events unfolded.
The first reports of multiple gunshots in Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island, came in around 1:40 pm local time. Police deployed armed officers in response.
Witnesses soon pinpointed the scene of the attack as the Masjid Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue, a street that serves as the eastern border of the centermost part of the city. A man armed with an automatic rifle and wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet was reported entering the building and opening fire at random people.
Police cordoned off the central part of the city and advised people to stay indoors, saying the “evolving situation” remained dangerous. Officers cleared Deans Avenue and Hagley Park, which is located just east of it. A heavy police presence was reported around the Christchurch hospital in the eastern part of the park.
Police action was also reported in the Linwood neighborhood 5km east of the Masjid Al Noor mosque, with some people injured. It soon emerged that another mosque, the Linwood Masjid, located in the area, also came under attack at about 1:45 pm. The shooter was described as a man wearing a black motorcycle helmet and camouflage clothing armed with an assault rifle.
About two hours into the incident, police confirmed that a suspect was in custody, but said that more people involved in the attacks might be out there. They advised all mosques in New Zealand to lock their doors and for people to refrain from going there.
A video also emerged online, apparently filmed by an attacker at one of the mosques. Police urged people not to share the footage and said they were actively trying to remove it from public access.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the nation, calling the situation “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.” She said many of the victims were likely refugees who found a home in the country. “They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.”
Footage emerged of what appears to be the arrest of a suspect in the shootings. Police rammed their car into another vehicle on Brougham Street before apprehending the driver.
Prime Minister Ardern said the tragic events “can now only be described as a terrorist attack.” The death toll was soon updated by Police Commissioner Mike Bush, who said 49 people were confirmed dead.
Commissioner Bush reported that four people had been taken into custody – three men and one woman. “We are not aware of other people, but we cannot assume there are no others at large,” he said. He also confirmed that the attackers had improvised explosive devices. Police secured them when seizing the suspects’ vehicles, he said.
An outpouring of condolences and support came from across New Zealand and other nations.
Australian PM Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the men arrested in New Zealand is an Australian citizen.