Christchurch shooting: New Zealand PM promises gun reform as 49 dead from terror attack

An Australian man from New South Wales has been charged with murder and appeared in court on Saturday

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New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern has said the country's gun laws "will change" following a terror attack which killed forty-nine people and injured 40.

Speaking the morning after Friday's attack, in which at least one gunman launched an attack on two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, Ms Ardern confirmed the suspect had a licence to own a firearm when the attacks took place.

In an earlier briefing, she had described the shootings as "one of New Zealand's darkest days".

It is the worst mass shooting in the country's history, with almost four times the death toll from the last large-scale attack in 1990.

Two men and a woman were in custody, while a car was found with two IEDS (improvised explosive devices), which had been neutralised.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said a man in his late 20s had been charged with murder and will appear in court on Saturday. One man was arrested on firearms offences but later released after it emerged he was trying to help police. The two others arrested on firearms offences are still being investigated.

Speaking on Saturday, Ms Ardern said none of those arrested had a criminal history or were on a watchlist.

Who was the shooter?

Australian man Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, originally from New South Wales, appeared in Christchurch District Court on Saturday morning on a single charge of murder. The judge said more charges would follow. Mr Tarrant did not speak during proceedings and did not seek bail.

He reportedly posted images of weapons and ammunition on Twitter before the attack, along with a 74-page manifesto in which he described himself as an "ordinary White man, 28 years old. Born in Australia to a working class, low income family". The suspect shot a 16-minute bodycam video on Friday as he drove to Al Noor Mosque on the city's Deans Avenue.

It appears he travelled widely in recent years including Pakistan and Bulgaria in 2018 according to reports.

A still image taken from video circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, shows him driving in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019.   Social Media Website/Handout via REUTERS TV  ATTENTION EDITORS -  THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
A still image taken from video circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded. Reuters

The horror of the attack was compounded by the fact that part of it was broadcast live, and the footage shared through social media platforms.

New Zealand police alerted Facebook to the suspect’s live video broadcast shortly after it began, and the company quickly took it down, said Facebook public policy manager Shaarik Zafar.

The Masjid Al Noor in central Christchurch was filled with worshippers when it was attacked happened, as was a second mosque in Linwood. The Bangladesh cricket team arrived at the Al Noor mosque as it was being attacked, but none of the players were injured.

Witnesses recounted seeing bloodied bodies, and tales have emerged of incredible acts of heroism by members of the public who rushed to help the wounded.

Seven people were killed at the Linwood mosque – three outside the mosque itself – and 41 were killed at the Al Noor mosque. One person died in hospital, and 48 more were there being treated for gunshot wounds.

Gun reform promised

In a press briefing on Saturday morning, Ms Ardern promised gun law reform.

“I can tell you one thing right now: our gun laws will change,” said Ms Ardern. “There have been attempts to change our laws in 2005, 2012 and after an inquiry in 2017. Now is the time for change.”

The Prime Minister confirmed the five firearms taken from the suspect included two shotguns and two semi-automatic weapons,which he appeared to have a licence to own. She said he obtained the category A  license in November 2017 and started purchasing firearms the next month.

Witnesses tell of blood-stained clothes, bodies and 'ambulance after ambulance'

Abdi Ibrahim, from Somalia, was in the Al Noor mosque with his father and his three-year-old brother when the shooting began. His father was not shot but pretended to be dead as the gunman fired bullets into the crowd. In the chaos, the family lost the young boy, whose name is Mucad.

"I got out as fast as I could as everyone was rushing to the door. I've never been scared so much in my life," Abdi Ibrahim told The National.

"We all rushed to emergency hospital as that's where I thought lots of our friends might be."

However, when he got to the hospital it was in lockdown. They were still looking for Mucad, and pleaded for the public for any sightings of him.

Khaja Mohiuddin, 30, was at prayers in the Linwood Avenue Mosque when heard gunshots and in the panic hid in a hallway with around 20 others. He describes an act of bravery by a man who disarmed the attacker after leaving their hiding place.

"We stood for prayers and heard gunshots. Everyone was trying to hide. Someone yelled get down."

He says the man said he had to "do something" before leaving the hallway and "jumping" at the gunman and "pulling the gun down."

"He was hiding and just jumped from where we were."

Christchurch journalist Thomas Mead was at the Al Noor mosque about 10 minutes after hearing about the shooting.

"It was pandemonium," he told The National. "The police were hiding behind civilian cars, pointing rifles down the street. They were screaming at people to get down. Then there was just ambulance after ambulance after ambulance."

Mr Mead said he spoke to a number of people who had been inside the mosque at the time.

"I spoke to a man who had blood on his clothes. He was inside when the shooting happened. He said the guy went from room to room, just shooting."

Another witness told he was praying at the Al Noor Mosque when he heard shooting and saw his wife lying dead on the footpath outside when he fled.

epa07438175 Grieving members of the public sit on a curb following a shooting resulting in multiple fatalies and injuries at the Masjid Al Noor on Deans Avenue in Christchurch, New Zealand, 15 March 2019. According to media reports on 15 March 2019, a gunman opened fire at around 1:40 pm local time after walking into the mosque, killing at least six people. Armed police officers were deployed to the scene, along with emergency service personnel.  Local authorities have advised residents to stay indoors as the situation is evolving. Four people are in custody in connection with the shooting, and other possible perpetrators are reportedly still at large. There have been confirmed reports of a shooting at a second mosque in Christchurch.  EPA/Martin Hunter NEW ZEALAND OUT
Grieving members of the public sit on a curb following the massacre. EPA

Another man said he saw children being shot. "There were bodies all over me," he said.

Hussein Al Amari, 36, was due to meet his family for lunch after attending the Al Noor mosque but failed to turn up.

His mother, Janna Ezat, went to the hospital but his name was not on a list posted of the injured.

"We went to the mosque but the street is closed so I was looking for his car to be sure that he was there," she told The National, through tears from her home in Christchurch.

"My son is not listed at the hospital it means he might be dead at the mosque so I am waiting for the police to call me."

As the shooting was unfolding, hundreds of schoolchildren were out in central Christchurch protesting against climate change, as part of an organised rally across the city.

Christchurch resident James Dann was in the central city alongside protesters when police told them to dissipate.

"No one really knew what was going on – not even the police really. We had no idea how serious it was. We knew the schools were on lockdown.

"I made my way home down Colombo St, through crawling traffic. As I got to Brougham St, I could see to my right that there was more police activity. I found out later it was the Subaru that the police had rammed off the road, which was carrying a car bomb."

The victims ranged from 'young children to adults' 

Christchurch Hospital's head of surgery Greg Robertson said Saturday that 48 patients, ranging from "young children to adults", were treated at Christchurch Hospital. Seven have been discharged, while 11 people remain in critical condition. Four died on the journey to the hospital.

"The 36 in hospital also include two children that remain within our care. Both are boys, one is aged two, and the other is aged 13," he added.

"Both are in a stable condition. As you would expect, the wounds from gunshots are often quite significant."

Injuries ranged from critical to minor. Further patients had gone to other health facilities across the city.

Armed police had initially placed a cordon around the hospital, as more than 200 family members flocked to check on the condition of injured relatives.

Ms Ardern confirmed a five-year-old child was in a critical condition and had been moved to the Starship hospital in Auckland in the country's North Island.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: 'We utterly reject and condemn you'

Ms Ardern visited Christchurch with other political leaders to support its residents. On arrival, she and her deputy Winston Peters and opposition leader Simon Bridges visited Canterbury Refugee Centre in the city.

She had earlier expressed gratitude towards the emergency services as a whole, taking time to thank the officer who apprehended the main suspect in particular.

“Many of you may have seen the footage of the arrest and I can only describe it as an act of bravery on behalf of all New Zealanders and an act that showed very little regard for their own personal safety," she said.

In an earlier statement on Friday, Ms Ardern took aim at the shooters, saying "you may have chosen us but we utterly reject and condemn you".

"Christchurch was the home of these victims. For many, this may not have been the place they were born. In fact for many New Zealand was their choice — a place they actively came to and committed themselves to. The place they were raising their families, the place where they were part of communities they loved and who loved them," she said.

"We were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate. 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 these things. Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it. And those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack."

On Saturday, New Zealand's national security threat level remained high.

Rhetoric of racism, division and extremism has no place not only in New Zealand but I would say in a society as a whole.

Christchurch had welcomed thousands of immigrants after the earthquakes of 2011, as many moved to the city to aid in the rebuild. Muslims represent about one per cent of New Zealand’s population, according to the last published census in 2013.

New Zealand's previous deadliest mass murder occurred in Aramoana, a small seaside township also on the South Island, north-east of Dunedin town, on November 13, 1990.

Aramoana resident David Gray killed 13 people, including a police officer, after a disagreement with his neighbour.

The attack led to sweeping changes to New Zealand's firearms legislation, leading to the country's now incredibly strict gun laws. These include 10-year photographic licences and tight restrictions on semi-automatic guns. However, anyone over 16 can apply for a standard firearms licence after doing a safety course, which allows them to purchase and use a shotgun unsupervised.

According to police figures released in 2018, the country's murder rate was at a 40-year-low.

A report, published by Stuff, showed that there were 35 murders in 2017 in the country, over the whole 12 months. The mosque terror attacks surpassed that total in one day in 2019.

I fear for the mental health of this city. This is going to be another long haul, once the enormity of what has happened sinks in.

Christchurch city councillor Raf Manji told The National this was a "terrible tragedy and an appalling act", and a "dark day for our city".

"It's been a tough day, reminiscent of February 22 [the Christchurch earthquake]. I fear for the mental health of this city. Kids locked down in school afternoon … this is going to be another long haul, once the enormity of what has happened sinks in."

Mr Manji said the lockdown for all buildings, schools and offices finished at about 6pm. Councillors would be back in their offices on Saturday for "briefings and updates on the situation".

Councillor Yani Johanson, who had been working on a multicultural strategy for the city and represents the Linwood ward where one of the targeted mosques was located, saw armed police while driving to the central city council buildings, where around 100 students were protesting against climate change.

"I came in and thought 'Oh my god, they're just sitting targets'," he told The National.

The students were then ushered upstairs into council chambers and in lockdown for four hours.

He said it was extremely traumatising for the city, as Christchurch had only just been allowed to accept refugees again after the 2011 earthquakes that killed 185.

"The earthquakes were awful and they were horrible but they were Mother Nature … but to have such a deliberate act against you as a community, and to have that targeted at a specific group – it's just horrific.

"New Zealand fundamentally is a good place. But it's going to change the way we do stuff."

He went on to say Christchurch was "such a small place" and people would need to rally to help those who had lost someone in an attack that was “just heart-breaking”.

"Tomorrow is going to be incredibly difficult, I'm going to know people who have lost family members or have been killed themselves," he said.

Weekend events cancelled

Events across the country had been cancelled in  tribute to the victims, Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said on Saturday morning in New Zealand.

Bryan Adams announced his gig at Christchurch's Hagley Park would no longer go ahead in "solidarity with the victims". Elsewhere in the country, a secondary school dance festival, Polyfest, in Auckland has been delayed and the 150th anniversary parade for Otago University has been postponed.

The third cricket Test between Bangladesh and New Zealand due to take place in Christchurch on Saturday has also been cancelled. Bangladeshi players narrowly avoided being caught up in the attack on Friday morning as they arrived to pray at Al Noor Mosque.

UAE leaders send condolences

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State of Foreign Affairs condemned the attacks in tweets.

Sheikh Mohammed said "we have witnessed the most heinous crime of religious hatred … Our condolences to New Zealand [and] to the families of the victims".

Farther afield, precautions were being taken around mosques after the attacks.

British police stepped up patrols around mosques and said they were speaking with community leaders.

"We are monitoring events in New Zealand closely and send our condolences to all those affected,” said Neil Basu, the UK’s head of counter-terrorism.

“Our international network of UK counter-terrorism officers will be ready to support our counterparts in New Zealand.”

Similar measures were being taken in France.