There are 49 dead and more than 20 wounded in Friday’s shootings by armed men at two mosques in New Zealand, according to official authorities.
The attacks on Muslim worshippers have taken place in the New Zealand town of Christchurch, located on the South Island. A man with an automatic rifle entered the Masjid Al Noor mosque in the city of Christchurch and opened fire on a group of people. The suspect entered the building 10 minutes after prayers began.
Another attack has been reported on a second mosque in the same locality near the Islamic centre Linwood Masjid.
Forty-one people were killed when armed men stormed Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue, said New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush.
Bush has added that seven people died at Linwood Mosque on Linwood Avenue, and one person died from his hospital wounds.
“Four people are in custody, three men and one woman,” the commissioner said, adding that explosive devices were found in the vehicles the suspects used.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that at least 20 people were seriously injured in the attacks.
“It is clear that this can only be described as a terrorist attack (…) As far as we know it appears to have been well planned,” said the New Zealand headline.
The premier has lamented that her country is living one of its “darkest days”. “It is clear that this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days. Clearly, what happened here was an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” he said.
In this sense, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, has made it clear that the man who perpetrated the attack is an Australian right-wing extremist.
The attacks on two mosques in the city of Christchurch are the work of a “violent right-wing extremist terrorist,” Morrison said.
According to local media, Christchurch Police have reportedly deployed officers to attend to reports of shootings on New Zealand’s South Island.
The police have warned that there could be several people involved in the attack. In addition, officers have intercepted a car with explosives in one of the areas near the incident.
Between 300 and 500 people were inside one of the mosques when a man with an automatic weapon shot at least 20 times, according to several witnesses, who put the number of victims at around 30.
According to another witness, the assailant wore a helmet, goggles and a military jacket and used an automatic weapon with which he fired about 20 shots. Schools and public buildings remain closed after the attack and the police have also requested that all mosques be closed and that no one approaches them.
Shooting is rare in New Zealand, a country that in 1992 restricted legislation to access semi-automatic weapons after a massacre of 13 people in the South Island town of Aramoana.
In recent years, extreme right-wing Islamophobic attacks have been on the rise in Western countries such as the United States, France, Spain and Germany.
The wave of Islamophobia and racial hatred has also increased in Australia – the country of origin of the perpetrator of the terrorist attack in New Zealand – where, according to a study by the University of Western Sydney, Charles Sturt Australian University and the Australian Academy of Islamic Research Sciences, the Muslim community suffers three to five times more racism and discrimination than the rest of that country’s population.