At least 49 people were killed and other 48 were injured Friday in a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in what became “one of New Zealand's darkest days,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
The shooter targeted two mosques: the Al Noor Mosque, where 41 people were killed, and the Linwood Mosque, where seven people died, Vox reports.
Three individuals are currently in custody, including Australian citizen Brenton Tarrant, 28. Tarrant was charged with murder and appeared in court Saturday, officials said. Authorities have said the suspect will be facing more charges.
Here is what we know so far about the New Zealand mosque attack.
What Happened During the Attack
A gunman opened fire at two mosques on Friday, in what is now the deadliest shooting in New Zealand history.
What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities – New Zealand is their home – they are us.
— Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern) March 15, 2019
According to ABC News, witnesses told authorities the attack occurred just before 1:40 p.m. local time as the Sheikh gave a sermon in Christchurch.
“He just came in and he was shooting ad hoc,” Ramzan Ali told The Associated Press.
The gunman live-streamed his attack on social media, gruesomely displaying how he entered the mosque and began to shoot innocent individuals who were trying to flee, according to New Zealand police. Officials have said that they are trying to remove the “extremely distressing footage” of the attack, and encouraged social media users not to share it.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said local authorities responded “immediately” to reports of gunfire and had already taken the suspect into custody within 36 minutes of the first shot being fired.
During a news conference Saturday, Ardern said five guns were used by the main suspect, including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns. The gunman did have a gun license.
Police said they found two improvised explosive devices attached to one vehicle. According to Vox, one of the devices has already been diffused, and authorities are working to neutralize the other.
Ardern told reporters “it absolutely was his (the suspect’s) intention to continue with his attack” if he had not been caught.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) March 16, 2019
Of the 49 people killed in the attack, New Zealand police said 41 victims died at the Al Noor Mosque, seven at the Linwood Avenue Mosque and one at a hospital.
Three Suspects in Custody
Three individuals are currently in custody, including Tarrant.
Police are currently investigating a manifesto, which Tarrant allegedly wrote and posted to social media shortly before the shooting began. The document champions far-fight and supremacist views, specifically targeting Muslims and immigrants, ABC News reports.
According to CNN, Ardern’s office received an email with the manifesto from the suspect just minutes before the attack took place. Ardern’s Chief Press Secretary Andrew Campbell said the email was in a “generic” staff email account, and that the Prime Minister did not see it.
In it, Tarrant praises mass murderers Dylann Roof, who attacked a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, and Anders Breivik, who killed dozens at a camp for Norway’s left-leaning political party.
According to theIndependent, the Australian-born former personal trainer, who currently lived in Dunedin, New Zealand, is believed to have been radicalized during his time abroad, and reportedly met with right-wing extremists during a 2017 trip to Europe.
In a chapter of the manifesto, Tarrant called for the assassination of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declaring “he must bleed his last.” A senior Turkish official told CNN that Tarrant has spent an “an extended period of time” in Turkey, and that they are “currently investigating the suspect’s movements and contacts within the country” to see if he was there to carry out a terrorist attack.
“None of those apprehended had a criminal history either here or in Australia,” Ardern said during a news conference, adding that none of them were on any watchlists.
Bush told reporters Friday night that authorities are still “working through” the accounts of two individuals who were arrested.
“As you know we apprehended four people ... one was released quite early, a member of the public who just wanted to get their kids home but decided to take a firearm,” Bush said. “There was another couple arrested at a cordon and we are currently working through whether or not those persons had any involvement in that incident. So when we know, we’ll be able to give you… but I don’t want to say anything until we’re sure.”
Meanwhile, Tarrant made his first appearance Saturday, where he was charged with one count of murder, but more charges are expected to be made.
While the man is currently facing only one charge, further charges will be laid. Details of those charges will be communicated at the earliest possible opportunity.
— New Zealand Police (@nzpolice) March 15, 2019
Tarrant, handcuffed and wearing a white prison jumpsuit, flashed a hand gesture associated with white supremacists inside the courtroom, CNN reports.
He remains in custody and will reappear in court on April 5th.
Heightened Police Presence Nationwide
“This attack has been an enormous shock for all New Zealanders, and I am aware that there is a real sense of fear and concern for personal safety, particularly among our Muslim communities,” Bush said in a statement.
He said New Zealand is “dedicating all available resources to our response, not only in Christchurch but right across the country,” adding that local authorities “will be highly vigilant [and] highly present, to ensure that if there is anyone out here wanting to commit harm we can intervene.”
Bush said there is a heightened police presence across the island nation, particularly at mosques and community events.
“Our other key priority is making sure that those people so horribly affected by these events get the support and welfare that they need,” the New Zealand Police said in a statement.
“There are many, many victims of this tragic event and we are giving every possible support to them.”
The Prime Minister visited members of the Muslim community at a refugee center in Christchurch on Saturday, where she conveyed messages of support and paid tribute to the victims of the attack, CNN reports.
Prime Minister Ardern Vows to Change Gun Laws
The main suspect, who had obtained his gun license in November 2017, used two semi-automatic weapons, two shotguns and a lever-action firearm in the attack, according to Ardern.
The Prime Minister told reporters Saturday, “While the nation grapples with a form of grief and anger that we have not experienced before, we are seeking answers.”
“While work is being done as to the chain of events that led to both the holding of this gun license and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now: our gun laws will change,” she told reporters. “It’s the time for change,” Ardern said.
— ABC News (@ABC) March 16, 2019
According to The Associated Press, there are an estimated 1.5 million firearm in New Zealand, and, so long as an individual passes a background check, citizens as young as 16 can possess a long gun.
However, if an individual has a history of violence, is found to associate with criminals, or repeatedly uses drugs or irresponsibly consumes alcohol, they application can be denied.
The Associated Press reported that there has been few changes to New Zealand gun laws in the past three decades. During the 1990s, there was an effort to ban AR-platform firearms and reduce the renewal requirement for a firearms license from 10 years to three years, but ultimately the measure did not pass.
At a press conference Saturday, Bush said he welcomed Ardern’s proposal to change gun laws.
“I was very happy to hear the Prime Minister's comments this morning that there will be a change in the gun law. But I can't say any more than that,” Bush said.
Foreign Leaders Offer Condolences & Support to New Zealand
Queen Elizabeth issued a statement Friday, saying she is “deeply saddened by the appalling events in Christchurch.”
“Prince Philip and I send our condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives. I also pay tribute to the emergency services and volunteers who are providing support to those who have been injured,” she said. “At this tragic time, my thoughts and prayers are with all New Zealanders.”
President Donald Trump announced Friday afternoon that he had spoken with Ardern about the attacks.
“These sacred places of worship were turned into scenes of evil killing. It’s a horrible, horrible thing,” Trump said, adding that would support New Zealand.
My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2019
Trump also tweeted his condolences Friday, writing, “My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured,” he tweeted. “The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!”