Forty-nine people were killed Friday in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called “an extraordinary act of violence.”
“Our gun laws will change,” Ardern promised in a news conference Saturday morning, local time. She said the shooter had five guns, two semi-automatic, all legally obtained.
Young children were among the 48 people wounded in the attack and were being treated for gunshot wounds. Forty-one people were killed at Al Noor Mosque and seven people were killed at Linwood Mosque, a 10-minute drive away. One person died later at a hospital.
Three people were in custody. Ardern said none had been on security watch lists.
A man suspected in at least one of the shootings appeared briefly in court Saturday. Brenton Tarrant, 28, was led by two armed guards into the court in Christchurch, where a judge read one charge of murder to him.
After the suspect left the court, the judge said that while “there is one charge of murder brought at the moment, it is reasonable to assume that there will be others.”
Television New Zealand identified Tarrant as being from Grafton, New South Wales, Australia.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Tarrant was an Australian citizen and described the suspect as an “extremist right-wing violent terrorist.”
Tarrant worked as a personal trainer, according to the Australian Broadcasting Co. Tracy Gray, manager of a gym where Tarrant was employed, said he began traveling overseas in 2011, going to Europe and Asia, including North Korea. A photo published online by ABC shows Tarrant in Pakistan in 2018.
The gunman live-streamed the assault on Facebook from a head-mounted camera, and the footage showed how victims were killed inside one of the mosques. The shooter broadcast the footage live after publishing a manifesto in which he called immigrants “invaders.”
The manifesto said the shooter picked New Zealand for his attack to show that “nowhere in the world was safe.”
In a news conference Saturday morning, Ardern said Tarrant’s onslaught was cut short when he was apprehended.
“It was his intention to continue his attack,” the prime minister said.
Mosques closed, security tight
Ardern called the shooting a “terrorist attack,” and authorities advised all mosques in Christchurch to shut down until further notice.
Police were on high alert in Christchurch and elsewhere. The prime minister asked residents of Christchurch to stay home if possible Saturday.
Reaction in US
New Zealand’s ambassador to the United States, Rosemary Banks, told VOA that she grew up in Christchurch. She said she was “shocked and saddened by this abhorrent act.”
U.S. President Donald Trump extended condolences on Twitter to New Zealanders and said, “The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do.”
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen later said U.S. authorities were monitoring the situation and that “attacks on peaceful people in their place of worship are abhorrent and will not be tolerated. The department strongly stands with those of all faiths as they seek to worship in peace.”
The attack was condemned around the globe, with leaders from Pakistan, Turkey, Britain, Germany, Israel, Jordan, Japan and the European Union all sending their condolences and offering support to New Zealand.
The victims of Friday’s shooting included immigrants from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Violent crime rare in New Zealand
Mass shootings, and violent crime in general, are rare in New Zealand, a country of nearly 5 million people. Until Friday, the country’s worst mass shooting occurred in 1990 when a lone gunman killed 13 people in the small town of Aramoana. (VOA)