New Zealand police are responding to mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques, and have confirmed that there are multiple fatalities.
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, said on Friday police had taken one suspect into custody but there could be others involved and people should stay indoors and remain in lock down.
“It is clearly one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” she said. “It is an unprecedented act of violence . . . this is not who we are.”
Police said that were “a number of fatalities” in attacks at two mosques in the city, with eyewitnesses reporting that the suspect shot multiple people in both locations.
A gunman is reported to have filmed one of the mosque shootings and broadcast it live on social media. Police urged people not to share the distressing footage and said they were working to have it removed it from the internet.
There have been very few mass shooting events in New Zealand, with the worst incident occurring in 1990 when gunman David Gray killed 13 people in a rampage after a dispute with a neighbour.
Ahmad Al-Mahmoud, who was in one of the mosques, told the Stuff.com news website that the shooter was wearing army-style camouflage clothing, wore a helmet and carried a large gun with lots of ammunition.
“He came through and started shooting everyone in the mosque like everywhere. And they had to smash the door, the glass in the small door, and everyone tried to get out — so we were trying to get everyone to run away from that area,” he said.
He said the attacker fired at least 40 shots.
Lianne Dalziel, Christchurch’s mayor, said she was shocked beyond words by the shootings.
“I would never have expected anything like this to happen in Christchurch, I’d never expect this to happen in New Zealand,” she said.
Muslim leaders have begun to respond to the tragic incident.
“This is the worst event in recent New Zealand history. We are shattered. We are devastated,” Hazim Arafeh, of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand told state broadcaster RNZ.
Mike Bush, New Zealand’s police commissioner, said a “serious and evolving situation is occurring in Christchurch with an active shooter”.
“Police are responding with its full capability to manage the situation, but the risk environment remains extremely high.”
The police have recommended that residents across Christchurch remain off the streets and indoors until further notice. Christchurch schools will be locked down until further notice.
Members of the Bangladesh cricket team were in the vicinity of the shooting but the team coach said all players were safe.
Additional reporting by Edward White