Saturday March 23, 2019
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Terrorists Attack Two Mosques of New Zealand, Nearly 50 Killed

One man has been charged with murder in the attacks and will appear in court Saturday

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“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said. VOA

Mass shootings at two mosques full of worshipers attending Friday prayers killed 49 people on what the prime minister called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” as authorities detained four people and defused explosive devices in what appeared to be a carefully planned racist attack.

One man has been charged with murder in the attacks and will appear in court Saturday, police say.

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Arrest Made in Attack on 2 New Zealand Mosques. VOA

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence” and acknowledged many of those affected may be migrants and refugees. In addition to the dead, she said 48 people were being treated for gunshot wounds, more than 20 were seriously wounded.

“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said.

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New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks on live television following fatal shootings at two mosques in central Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. VOA

Police took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation of 5 million people. While there was no reason to believe there were more suspects, Ardern said the national security threat level was being raised to the second-highest level.

Authorities have not specified who they detained, but said none had been on any watch list. A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for the attack. He said he was a 28-year-old white Australian and a racist. Television New Zealand (TVNZ) identified him as Brenton Tarrant from Grafton, New South Wales.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the four people detained was an Australian-born citizen.

Ardern at a news conference alluded to anti-immigrant sentiment as the possible motive, saying that while many people affected by the shootings may be migrants or refugees “they have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.”

As for the suspects, Ardern said “these are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand.”

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New Zealand police Commissioner Mike Bush speaks to the media after an attack on a mosque in Christchurch at the Royal Society building in Wellington, March 15, 2019. VOA

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police were not aware of other suspects beyond the four who were detained but they couldn’t be certain.

“The attackers were apprehended by local police staff. There have been some absolute acts of bravery,” Bush said. “I’m hugely proud of our police staff, the way they responded to this. But let’s not presume the danger is gone.”

Bush said the defense force had defused a number of improvised explosive devices that were attached to vehicles stopped after the attacks.

He said anybody who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand on Friday should stay put.

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FILE – A view of the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue in Christchurch, New Zealand, taken in 2014. VOA

Deadliest attack

The deadliest attack occurred at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch about 1:45 p.m. Arden said 41 people were killed there.

One man who said he was at the Al Noor mosque told media the gunman was white, blond and wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest. The man burst into the mosque as worshippers were kneeling for prayers.

“He had a big gun … he came and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere,” said the man, Ahmad Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.

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Ambulance staff take a man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. VOA

Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.

Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway, and fled.

Peneha said he then went into the mosque to try and help.

“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. “It’s unbelievable nutty. I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”

He said he helped about five people recover in his home. He said one was slightly injured.

“I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly,” he said. “I just don’t understand it.”

He said the gunman was white and was wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.

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Armed police patrol outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. VOA

Attack livestreamed

A video that was apparently livestreamed by the shooter shows the attack in horrifying detail. The gunman spends more than two minutes inside the mosque spraying terrified worshippers with bullets again and again, sometimes firing again at people he has already cut down.

He then walks outside to the street, 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. Children were among the wounded.

The gunman then walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground. After walking back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where 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!” and the gunman drives away. The video then cuts out.

Second mosque attacked

There was a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque that Ardern said killed 10 people.

Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer-goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.

Nichols said he saw two injured people being carried out on stretchers past his automotive shop and that both people appeared to be alive.

Man claims responsibility

The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting said he came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the attack. He said he was not a member of any organization, but had donated to and interacted with many nationalist groups, though he acted alone and no group ordered the attack.

He said the mosques in Christchurch and Linwood would be the targets, as would a third mosque in the town of Ashburton if he could make it there.

He said he chose New Zealand because of its location, to show that even the most remote parts of the world were not free of “mass immigration.”

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Cricket team’s narrow escape

New Zealand is generally considered to be a welcoming country for immigrants and refugees. Last year, the prime minister announced the country would boost its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 starting in 2020. Ardern, whose party campaigned on the promise of raising the intake of refugees, dubbed the planned increase “the right thing to do.”

A cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh scheduled to start Saturday was canceled after the Bangladesh cricket team had a narrow escape. (VOA)

Next Story

Imam Addresses Thousands of People: “We are Broken-Hearted, But we are Not Broken.”

He told the crowd “hate will be undone and love will redeem us”

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People carry the body of a victim during a burial ceremony for those killed in the mosque attacks, at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 22, 2019. VOA

Thousands of people gathered Friday for a mass funeral in a cemetery in New Zealand where 26 of the 50 victims of a mass shooting in a mosque last Friday were buried. The youngest victim buried was 3 years old.

Earlier, at an outdoor service across from the mosque where the fatal attack happened in Christchurch, Imam Gamil Fouda addressed a crowd of thousands, telling them that “We are broken-hearted, but we are not broken.”

He told the crowd “hate will be undone and love will redeem us.”

The imam thanked “the neighbors who opened their doors to save us from the killer” and “those who pulled over their cars to help us.”

Fouda also acknowledged New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for “Holding our families close and honoring us with a simple scarf. He said the prime minister’s leadership was “a lesson for the world.”

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Imam Gamal Fouda leads a Friday prayer at Hagley Park outside al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 22, 2019. VOA

Fouda also acknowledged New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for “Holding our families close and honoring us with a simple scarf. He said the prime minister’s leadership was “a lesson for the world.”

Women around New Zealand wore headscarves Friday to show their support and respect for the Muslim community.

Reuters reports that female police officers at the outdoor service also donned headscarves and wore a red rose on their uniforms.

Before the imam spoke, there was a public call to prayer at the park that was broadcast on radio and television across the country.

Two minutes of silence followed the call to prayer in remembrance of those who died in the mosque.

Ardern said after the call to prayer: “New Zealand mourns with you, we are one.”

Ardern has been swift in her reaction to the bloody attack on the mosque.

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New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attends the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 22, 2019. VOA

Weapons ban

She imposed an immediate ban on all military-style semi-automatic and automatic assault rifles.

The ban, which the prime minister announced Thursday in Wellington, includes high-capacity magazines, which can hold multiple rounds of ammunition, and accessories that can convert ordinary rifles into fast-acting assault rifles. Ardern said she imposed the sales ban to prevent stockpiling and that a complete ban on the weapons would be implemented after new laws take effect.

Ardern also announced a large-scale buyback scheme to encourage owners of such weapons to surrender them to authorities. She said the government could spend up to $140 million to buy back guns from owners who turn them in. The military and police would be exempt, as would pest control businesses. New Zealand police said on their website a “transitional period” would allow people to turn in their guns without penalty.

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Parliament is expected to approve the proposed laws when it reconvenes in mid-April.

Authorities have charged 28-year-old Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant with murder in connection with the March 15 attacks on the al-Noor and Linwood mosques. The self-proclaimed white nationalist did not enter a plea in his initial court appearance the day after the attack. His next court appearance is April 5. (VOA)