Forty people were killed at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch after Friday afternoon prayers when a gunman opened fire on worshippers.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more than 20 people were also seriously wounded.
The city was on lockdown for several hours while police searched for an “active shooter”. The lockdown has now been lifted, police said.
Witnesses told local media that a man dressed in a military-style camouflage outfit and carrying an automatic rifle had randomly opened fire on people at the Masjid Al Noor Mosque in Hagley Park.
About 300 people were reported to have gathered there for prayers.
A second shooting took place at a mosque in the suburb of Linwood.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said one of those arrested was an Australian citizen.
He described the suspected attacker as an “extremist right-wing violent terrorist”.
An unverified video of the attacks as well as an unverified manifesto promoting white supremacy allegedly written by one of the suspected shooters circulated on social media.
In the footage, the attacker appears to have live-streamed his actions as he shot victims in a mosque.
Police called on the public not to share the “extremely distressing” material online.
Facebook said it had removed the attacker’s Facebook and Instagram accounts as well as any support voiced for the attacks.
“This is one of New Zealand‘s darkest days,” said Ardern. “Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”
Jacinda Ardern’s first statement demonstrates such much-needed moral clarity and leadership. Of the victims, the PM says: “They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand.” pic.twitter.com/BKi4LYHRc1
— James West (@jameswest2010) March 15, 2019
Police said they had four people in custody – three men and one woman – but they were uncertain whether others were involved and were still treating the case as an “active shooter” situation.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said that multiple improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had been found in cars, but they had been disabled.
“No one in the country must go to a mosque under any circumstances,” Bush said. “As far as we know,” the fatalities occurred at the two mosques.”
The Bangladesh cricket team was going to Friday prayers at the Masjid Al Noor Mosque when the shooting occurred, but all members were safe, a team coach told the Reuters news agency.
“They were on the bus, which was just pulling up to the mosque when the shooting began,” Mario Villavarayen, strength and conditioning coach of the Bangladesh cricket team, told Reuters in a message.
“They are shaken but good.”
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said on Twitter that this was an “awfully sad day for New Zealand”.
This is an awfully, awfully, sad day for New Zealand. There are lessons here from which we must all learn.
— Winston Peters (@winstonpeters) March 15, 2019
PM Ardern expressed sorrow for the victims. “Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home,” she said.
One witness at the Masjid Al Noor Mosque told the New Zealand Herald shortly after the shooting that he had friends still inside the mosque.
“I still have friends inside. I have been calling my friends but there are many I haven’t heard from. I am scared for my friends’ lives,” said Mohan Ibrahim.
In terms of community, we are definitely in shock by what has happened
– Tahir Nawaz, International Muslim Association of New Zealand
New Zealand Muslim communities expressed shock and sadness at the unfolding event.
“In terms of community, we are definitely in shock by what has happened as the news is coming in. We all know that New Zealand is a peaceful country, and we would never expect something like this. We are completely shocked,” Tahir Nawaz, president of the International Muslim Association of New Zealand, told Middle East Eye.
Still, he added, the event will help bring people together to combat hatred.
“The community is already supporting us, the Muslim community is helping each other and also the other communities, the other communities are supporting us as well,” he said.
“They’ve already started sending flowers and asking about our needs such as food and such. We are really impressed with our community in terms of the way they are already supporting us.”
Muslims account for slightly more than 1 percent of New Zealand’s population, a 2013 census showed.