CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — At least 49 people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers in an attack broadcast in horrifying, live video by an immigrant-hating white supremacist wielding at least two assault rifles and a shotgun.
A body lies on the footpath outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019, following a mass shooting. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
One man was arrested and charged with murder, and two other armed suspects were taken into custody while police tried to determine what role they played.
"It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, noting that many of the victims could be migrants or refugees.
She pronounced it "one of New Zealand's darkest days."
The cold-blooded attack shocked people across the nation of 5 million people, a country that has relatively loose gun laws but few gun homicides and is so peaceful police officers rarely carry firearms. New Zealand is also generally considered to be welcoming to migrants and refugees.
The gunman behind at least one of the mosque shootings left a 74-page manifesto that he posted on social media under the name Brenton Tarrant, identifying himself as a 28-year-old Australian and white nationalist who was out to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.
Using what may have been a helmet camera, he livestreamed to the world in graphic detail his rampage at Christchurch's Al Noor Mosque, where at least 41 people were killed as he sprayed them with bullets over and over, sometimes firing at victims he had already cut down. Several more worshippers were killed in an attack on second mosque in the city a short time later.
Map locates two mosques in Christchurch and Linwood, New Zealand, where mass shootings occurred
At least 48 people were wounded, some critically, authorities said.
Police did not immediately say whether the same person was responsible for both shootings. They did not identify those taken into custody and gave no details about them except to say that none had been on any watch list.
While there was no reason to believe there were any more suspects, the prime minister said the national threat level was raised from low to high. Police warned Muslims against going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand. And Air New Zealand canceled several flights in and out of Christchurch.
Police said the investigation extended 360 kilometers (240 miles) to the south, where homes in Dunedin were evacuated around a "location of interest." They gave no details.
World leaders condemned the attacks and offered condolences. Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan and other Islamic leaders pointed to the bloodshed and other such attacks as evidence of rising hostility toward Muslims.
"I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11 where Islam & 1.3 bn Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror by a Muslim," Khan tweeted.
New Zealand's prime minister said that immigrants and refugees "have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us." As for the suspects, Ardern said, they harbor "extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand."
Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black and wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top enter the Al Noor mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running out in terror.
People stand across the road from a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. A witness says a number of people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch; police urge people to stay indoors.(AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Peneha, who lives next door, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway and fled. He said he then went into the mosque to try to help the victims.
"I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque," he said. "I don't understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It's ridiculous."
In the video that was livestreamed, the gunman spends more than two minutes inside the mosque spraying terrified worshippers gunfire. He then walks outside, where he shoots at people on the sidewalk. Children's screams can be heard in the distance as he returns to his car to get another rifle. The gunman walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground.
After going back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where the song "Fire" by the English rock band The Crazy World of Arthur Brown can be heard blasting. The singer bellows, "I am the god of hellfire!" and the gunman drives away.
The second attack took place at the Linwood mosque about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away.
Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald that he heard about five gunshots and that a prayer-goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun. Nichols said he saw two wounded people being carried out on stretchers past his automotive shop.
Based on the video, the attacker was at the scene of the first mosque for about 10 minutes, and police did not arrive until after that.
The footage showed he was carrying a shotgun and two fully automatic military assault rifles, with an extra magazine taped to one of the weapons so that he could reload quickly. He also had more assault weapons in the trunk of his car, along with what appeared to be explosives.
The gunman said he was not a member of any organization, acted alone and chose New Zealand to show that even the most remote parts of the world are not free of "mass immigration."
Last year, New Zealand's prime minister announced that the country would boost its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 starting in 2020. Ardern, whose party campaigned on a promise to take in more refugees, called it "the right thing to do."
Christchurch is home to nearly 400,000 people and is sometimes called the Garden City. It has been rebuilding since an earthquake in 2011 killed 185 people and destroyed many downtown buildings.
Before Friday's attack, New Zealand's deadliest shooting in modern history took place in the small town of Aramoana in 1990, when a gunman killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbor.
Perry reported from Wellington. Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, and Chris Blake in Bangkok contributed to this report.
Mosque shooter a white supremacist angry at immigrants
SYDNEY (AP) — The gunman behind at least one of the mosque shootings in New Zealand that left 49 people dead on Friday tried to make a few things clear in the manifesto he left behind: He is a 28-year-old Australian white nationalist who hates immigrants. He was angry about attacks in Europe that were perpetrated by Muslims. He wanted revenge, and he wanted to create fear.
He also, quite clearly, wanted attention.
Though he claimed not to covet fame, the gunman — whose name was not immediately released by police — left behind a 74-page document posted on social media under the name Brenton Tarrant in which he said he hoped to survive the attack to better spread his views in the media.
He also livestreamed to the world in graphic detail his assault on the worshippers at Christchurch's Al Noor Mosque.
That rampage killed at least 41 people, while an attack on a second mosque in the city not long after killed several more. Police did not say whether the same person was responsible for both shootings.
While his manifesto and video were an obvious and contemptuous ploy for infamy, they do contain important clues for a public trying to understand why anyone would target dozens of innocent people who were simply spending an afternoon engaged in prayer.
There could be no more perplexing a setting for a mass slaughter than New Zealand, a nation so placid and so isolated from the mass shootings that plague the U.S. that police officers rarely carry guns.
Yet the gunman himself highlighted New Zealand's remoteness as a reason he chose it. He wrote that an attack in New Zealand would show that no place on earth was safe and that even a country as far away as New Zealand is subject to mass immigration.
He said he grew up in a working-class Australian family, had a typical childhood and was a poor student. A woman who said she was a colleague of his when he worked as a personal trainer in the Australian city of Grafton said she was shocked by the allegations against him.
"I can't ... believe that somebody I've probably had daily dealings with and had shared conversations and interacted with would be able of something to this extreme," Tracey Gray told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
The rambling manifesto is filled with confusing and seemingly contradictory assertions about his beliefs.
Beyond his white nationalistic ideals, he claimed to be an environmentalist and said he is a fascist who believes China is the nation that most aligns with his political and social values. He said he has contempt for the wealthiest 1 percent. And he singled out American conservative commentator Candace Owens as the person who had influenced him the most, while saying "the extreme actions she calls for are too much, even for my tastes."
In a tweet, Owens responded by saying that if the media portrayed her as the inspiration for the attack, it had better hire lawyers.
The manifesto also included a single reference to President Donald Trump in which the author asked and answered the question of whether he was a Trump supporter: "As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no."
Throughout the manifesto, the theme he returns to most often is conflict between people of European descent and Muslims, often framing it in terms of the Crusades.
Among his hate-filled statements is a claim that he was motivated toward violence by an episode that occurred in 2017 while he was touring through Western Europe. That was when an Uzbek man drove a truck into a crowd of people in Stockholm, killing five.
He said his desire for violence grew when he arrived in France, where he said he was offended by the sight of immigrants in the cities and towns he visited.
Three months ago, he said, he started planning to target Christchurch. He said he has donated to many nationalist groups, but claimed not to be a direct member of any organization. However, he admitted contacts with an anti-immigration group called the reborn Knights Templar and said he got the approval of Anders Breivik for the attack, a claim that has not been verified.
Breivik is a right-wing Norwegian extremist who killed 77 people in Oslo and a nearby island in 2011. Breivik's lawyer Oeystein Storrvik told Norway's VG newspaper that his client, who is in prison, has "very limited contacts with the surrounding world, so it seems very unlikely that he has had contact" with the New Zealand gunman.
The gunman rambled on about the supposed aims for the attack, which included reducing immigration by intimidating immigrants and driving a wedge between NATO and the Turkish people. He also said he hoped to further polarize and destabilize the West, and spark a civil war in the United States that would ultimately result in a separation of races. The attack has had the opposite impact, with condemnation of the bloodshed pouring in from all quarters of the globe, and calls for unity against hatred and violence.
The gunman used various hate symbols associated with the Nazis and white supremacy. For instance, the number 14 is seen on his rifle, a possible reference to the "14 Words," a white supremacist slogan attributed in part to Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He also used the symbol of the Schwarze Sonne, or black sun, which "has become synonymous with myriad far-right groups who traffic in neo-Nazi," according to the center.
His victims, he wrote, were chosen because he saw them as invaders who would replace the white race. He predicted he would feel no remorse for their deaths. And in the video he livestreamed of his shooting, no remorse can be seen or heard as he sprays terrified worshippers with bullets again and again, sometimes firing at people he has already cut down.
He left a scene of carnage that shocked the nation, and the world. It was, in the words of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, "one of New Zealand's darkest days."
Mosque shooter brandished white supremacist iconography
The self-proclaimed racist who attacked a New Zealand mosque during Friday prayers in an assault that killed 49 people used rifles covered in white-supremacist graffiti and listened to a song glorifying a Bosnian Serb war criminal.
These details highlight the toxic beliefs behind an unprecedented, live-streamed massacre, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called "one of New Zealand's darkest days."
Some of the material posted by the killer resembles the meme-heavy hate speech prominent in dark corners of the internet. Beneath the online tropes lies a man who matter-of-factly wrote that he was preparing to conduct a horrific attack.
— The shooter's soundtrack as he drove to the mosque included an upbeat-sounding tune that belies its roots in a destructive European nationalist and religious conflict. The nationalist Serb song from the 1992-95 war that tore apart Yugoslavia glorifies Serbian fighters and Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, who is jailed at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague for genocide and other war crimes against Bosnian Muslims. A YouTube video for the song shows emaciated Muslim prisoners in Serb-run camps during the war. "Beware Ustashas and Turks," says the song, using wartime, derogatory terms for Bosnian Croats and Muslims.
— When the gunman returned to his car after the shooting, the song "Fire" by English rock band "The Crazy World of Arthur Brown" can be heard blasting from the speakers. The singer bellows, "I am the god of hellfire!" as the man, a 28-year-old Australian, drives away.
— At least two rifles used in the shooting bore references to Ebba Akerlund, an 11-year-old girl killed in an April 2017 truck-ramming attack in Stockholm by Rakhmat Akilov, a 39-year-old Uzbek man. Akerlund's death is memorialized in the gunman's apparent manifesto, published online, as an event that led to his decision to wage war against what he perceives as the enemies of Western civilization.
— The number 14 is also seen on the gunman's rifles. It may refer to "14 Words," which according to the Southern Poverty Law Center is a white supremacist slogan linked to Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf." He also used the symbol of the Schwarze Sonne, or black sun, which "has become synonymous with myriad far-right groups," according to the center, which monitors hate groups.
— In photographs from a now deleted Twitter account associated with the suspect that match the weaponry seen in his live-streamed video, there is a reference to "Vienna 1683," the year the Ottoman Empire suffered a defeat in its siege of the city at the Battle of Kahlenberg. "Acre 1189," a reference to the Crusades, is also written on the guns.
— Four names of legendary Serbs who fought against the 500-year-rule of the Muslim Ottomans in the Balkans, written in the Cyrillic alphabet, are also seen on the gunman's rifles.
— The name Charles Martel, who the Southern Poverty Law Center says white supremacists credit "with saving Europe by defeating an invading Muslim force at the Battle of Tours in 734," was also on the weapons. They also bore the inscription "Malta 1565," a reference to the Great Siege of Malta, when the Maltese and the Knights of Malta defeated the Turks.
— The names of two 15th-century Hungarian military leaders known for fighting against the advancing Ottomans are also mentioned. John Hunyadi's name is written on a rifle, while Mihaly Szilagyi Horogszegi's name is on an ammunition magazine.
Associated Press writers Stephen Wright in Jakarta, Indonesia, Penny Wang in Bangkok and Jovana Gec and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.