At least 49 people were killed and 20 injured Friday in armed assaults by a suspected white nationalist on two crowded Christchurch mosques, in one of the deadliest attacks in New Zealand’s history.
Police took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation of 5 million people. One of the suspects was later charged with murder.
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.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the shooting as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” and added that the attack had been “well planned.”
Ardern said New Zealand was targeted because it is an example of multiculturalism, diversity and acceptance.
“This can only be described as a terrorist attack,” she said.
“We New Zealanders were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone this racism, or because we are an enclave of extremism, we were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things,” she said.
“I want to send a message to those directly affected…For many this may have not been the place they were born. For many New Zealand was their choice, a place they actively came to and committed themselves to…it was a place where many came to for their safety. A place where it was safe to practice their culture and religion,” she added.
“You may have chosen us [to attack] but we utterly reject and condemn you.”
New Zealand police reported that four people suspected to be connected with the attacks had secured a number of improvised explosive devices.
Commissioner Mike Bush said suspected IEDs found attached to the attackers’ vehicles had been made safe by the military.
Police also warned against sharing footage relating to the deadly shooting in Christchurch, after a video online showed a gunman filming himself firing at worshipers inside one of the mosques.
“Police are aware there is extremely distressing footage relating to the incident in Christchurch circulating online,” New Zealand police said in a Twitter post.
“We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed.”
Police added that the lockdown that had put in place after the attacks had been lifted, allowing frantic parents to pick up their children.
“Police can now confirm the lock down of schools throughout Christchurch has been lifted,” New Zealand Police said in a statement.
Authorities have not said who they have in custody. But 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 his actions. He said he considered it a terrorist attack.
The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting said he was 28-year-old white Australian who 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.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that the the suspected shooter was an Australian citizen.
He added that the attacker was an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist.”
He declined to provide further details, saying the investigation was being led by New Zealand authorities.
AFP analyzed a copy of a Facebook Live video of one of the attacks that shows a clean-shaven, Caucasian man with short hair driving to a mosque, then shooting as he enters the building.
The gunman continues to shoot at people inside the mosque, some of whom were trying to flee while others were huddled in corners of the building, according to the copy of the video that AFP found on YouTube.
AFP confirmed the video was genuine through a digital investigation that included matching screenshots of the mosque taken from the gunman’s footage with multiple images available online showing the same areas.
This included the entrance of the mosque, which has a number of distinct features such as a fence, postbox and doorway.
Inside the mosque, the gunman’s footage showed distinctively patterned green carpet that also matched images tagged on Google Maps as being at the same location.
Distinctive writing on the gunman’s weapons seen in the footage also matched images posted on a Twitter account using the same name and cartoon profile picture as the Facebook Live video.
The Facebook account that posted the video was no longer available shortly after the shooting. The Twitter account of the same name was quickly suspended.
Mass shootings in New Zealand are exceedingly rare. The deadliest in modern history occurred in the small town of Aramoana in 1990, when gunman David Gray shot and killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbor.