At least forty people are confirmed dead and twenty others seriously injured following shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch in New Zealand.
Four people, three men and one woman, have been arrested over the incident which occurred as several worshippers gathered for Friday afternoon prayers at Linwood and Masjid al Noor mosques. Eyewitnesses say they heard multiple shots being fired and saw bodies lying on the ground. A man said he saw people running out and covered in blood.
Speaking to the press, Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern confirmed the number of casualties and labeled the incidents a “terrorist attack” noting that they were “well planned”. She said two explosive devices attached to vehicles were found and disarmed.
“These are people who I would describe as having extremist views, that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and, in fact, have no place in the world,” Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern said in her address in reference to the suspects.
Police in New Zealand have requested all mosques in the country to shut their doors. Police commissioner Mike Bush urged citizens to keep off the streets and said all schools in the city were in lockdown in response to the incidents.
“We have four people in custody. We are not aware of other people but we cannot assume there are not others at large,” Commissioner Bush told reporters.
The Bangladesh cricket team, in New Zealand for a tour, was reported to be disembarking from their bus to go in for prayers when the incident happened. A team coach is quoted by Reuters as saying all players were safe but were in a state of shock. New Zealand Cricket later said the match was cancelled in light of the tragic events.
New Zealand is considered a peaceful country where violent crimes are uncommon. The last mass shooting incident in New Zealand happened in November 1990 when a man killed 13 people in the seaside township of Aramoana, northeast of Dunedin. The tragedy led to New Zealand tightening gun laws to restrict access to semi-automatic rifles two years later.