A white Australian right-wing terrorist who livestreamed his sickening shooting spree on Facebook is one of four people arrested over dual mosque attacks which left 49 dead and 48 injured on New Zealand’s 'darkest day'.
The gunman, who identified himself as Brenton Tarrant from Grafton, NSW, Australia, stormed the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch on the country's South Island about 1.30pm, opening fire with a semi-automatic shotgun and a rifle on about 100 defenceless worshippers attending Friday prayers.
A sickening 17-minute video of the unfolding horror shows the self-confessed white supremacist dressed in army fatigues firing mercilessly at people scrambling to flee, and calmly reloading when he runs out of bullets.
At about the same time, there was a second shooting at Masjid mosque in Linwood, where seven more were killed.
In the aftermath of the bloody attacks, three men and one woman were arrested, with police charging 'one man in his late 20s' with murder. He is expected to face court on Saturday.
Two of the others remain in police custody, with a fourth person arrested deemed not to have been involved in the attacks.
Of the 49 fatalities, 41 were killed at the Al Noor Mosque and seven at the Linwood Avenue mosque. Three were outside the mosque itself. A 49th died in hospital.
A further 48 people were rushed to Christchurch Hospital with gunshot wounds, 20 in a critical condition. A dozen operating theatres were opened, with many victims requiring multiple life-saving surgeries.
New Zealand Police have evacuated homes in Dunedin as they investigate a home 'of interest' to the shootings. The address is believed to be the home the gunman's car is registered to.
In New Zealand's worst ever terror attack and one of the worst mass-shootings ever:
49 people killed by at least one gunman at two separate mosques in Christchurch on Friday from 1.30pm
The gunman at Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch - a 28-year-old Australian - live-streamed the mass shooting
In a twisted manifesto, Tarrant wrote he targeted the mosques while training for another attack
Four suspects - who were not known to counter-terror authorities - were being questioned in custody
One of the men in his 'late 20s', whose identity has not been confirmed by police, was later charged with murder
The Bangladesh cricket team were on their way to the Al Noor Mosque at the time of the shooting
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday's terror attack was 'one of New Zealand's darkest days'
Early reports indicated a shooting at Christchurch Hospital. However, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the mosques were the lone targets.
In a twisted manifesto believed to have been written by Tarrant, he said he targeted the mosques because they had 'far more invaders'.
Tarrant eerily wrote that he went to New Zealand to train for another attack but ended up executing the massacre because of how many Muslims lived there.
Ms Ardern called the attacks 'one of New Zealand's darkest days'.
Ms Ardern did confirm multiple bombs were attached to two cars belonging to the suspects near the mosque. The explosives were disarmed before they could detonate.
Police urged people near the area to stay indoors and report suspicious behaviour, describing the incident as 'critical'. A lock down on buildings in the area, including schools, was lifted on Friday evening.
Ms Ardern said there were no further suspects at this stage.
The nation's terror threat level was elevated to 'high alert' following the terror attacks, the second highest possible.
'My thoughts, and I'm sure the thoughts of all New Zealanders, are with those who have been affected, and also with their families.'
Many of those families were seen crowding around the doors of Christchurch Hospital on Friday evening, unsure whether their loved ones would survive.
AUTHORITIES RESPOND TO THE ATTACKS
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed the death toll had risen to 49 as of 9pm local time.
'This is absolutely tragic. So many people are affected. We don't know the identities of those who have died yet because those places are in lockdown,' he said in a statement at about 6pm.
Speaking of the victims, Commissioner Bush said: 'Our love and thoughts go out to them and all of their family, all of their friends and all of their loved ones.'
He also praised local police officers who responded to the attacks.
'We have staff around the country making sure everyone is safe, including armed offenders at all mosques. Police staff have gone above and beyond to protect people today.'
Armed police were seen patrolling the Masijd Ayesha Mosque in Auckland after the attack in Christchurch.
He earlier urged Muslims in New Zealand not to go to mosques on Friday.
Commissioner Bush said four people were in custody. He also confirmed multiple bombs attached to vehicles near the scene of the shootings were disarmed.
Ms Ardern said the shootings were 'an unprecedented act of violence, an act that has absolutely no place in New Zealand.
'This is not who we are.
'The people who were the subject of this attack today, New Zealand is their home. They should be safe here. The person who has perpetuated this violent act against them, they have no place in New Zealand society.'
She confirmed that police believe the attacks were 'meticulously' planned out.
Ms Ardern flew to Wellington from Christchurch to hold a crisis meeting at parliament.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was 'horrified' by the 'callous, right wing extremist attack'.
'The situation is still unfolding but our thoughts and prayers are with our Kiwi cousins,' he said.
He and Ms Ardern will discuss the repercussions of the attack later on Friday evening.
SICKENING ATTACK SHARED ONLINE
The suspected gunman shared a 73-page manifesto to Twitter before the killings, foreshadowing a 'terrorist attack'.
He entered the Al Noor Mosque on Friday during afternoon prayers and opened fire.
The distressing video streamed to his Facebook profile shows the 28-year-old man firing more than 100 shots at those inside.
His guns were scrawled with the names of past mass killers and cities where the shootings occurred.
The gunman's rampage began when he got into his car wearing military-style body armour and a helmet saying 'let's get this party started'.
He then drove to the mosque listening to folk music and military tunes before parking in an alley around the corner.
After retrieving one of at least six guns stored in his car, he walked up to the front door and began firing indiscriminately at worshippers inside.
The gunman stormed inside and fired quick bursts at anyone he saw. One wounded man tried to crawl away but was shot again after he calmly reloaded.
He fired into crowds of huddled worshipers, sometimes not even looking where he was shooting, reloading numerous times.
When then sound of his gun stopped between magazines, the moaning of wounded people could be heard until the shots began again.
Several times he stood over wounded men, calmly reloaded his gun, then shot them multiple times to make sure they were dead.
Tarrant then walked outside and appeared to fire on at least two targets, then returned to his car and swapped his shotgun for a scoped rifle.
Returning to the mosque he walked over to a pile of dead or wounded men in the room and began shooting them in the head to ensure they were dead.
Once he was satisfied everyone was dead, he ran outside and shot another person he saw on the mosque's front lawn.
The woman stumbled on to the street and was lying face down in the gutter yelling 'help me, help me' as the shooter walked up to her.
Tarrant calmly leaned over her and shot her twice in the head.
Seconds later he returned to his car and drove over her body to make his escape, stopping to shoot at least one other person through his car window.
As he drove he expressed regret for not staying longer and 'burning the mosque to the ground'. Two jerry cans of petrol were earlier seen the the back his car.
'But, s**t happens,' he said. 'I left one full magazine back there, I know for sure. I had to run along in the middle of the firefight and pick it up.
'There wasn't even time to aim there were so many targets. There were so many people, the car park was full, so there's no real chance of improvement.'
Footage from within the Masjid mosque later showed survivors tending to the wounded.
THE SHOOTER'S MANIFESTO
In a manifesto seemingly written by Tarrant and shared to Twitter, he mentions being inspired by other shooters including Anders Breivik who killed 77 people in Oslo, Norway in 2011.
He said he 'disliked' Muslims and hated those who had converted to the religion, calling them 'blood traitors'.
Tarrant said he originally wanted to target a mosque in Dunedin, south of Christchurch, after watching a video on Facebook.
'But after visiting the mosques in Christchurch and Linwood and seeing the desecration of the church that had been converted to a mosque in Ashburton, my plans changed,' he wrote.
'The Christchurch and Linwood mosques had far more invaders.'
He said he had been planning an attack for up to two years and decided on Christchurch three months ago.
The shooter said he was motivated to carry out the attack by the death of Swedish schoolgirl Ebba Akerlund, a girl who was killed in a terrorist attack in Stockholm in April 2017.
Tarrant said he was a supporter of Donald Trump as a 'symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose'.
He described himself as 'just a regular white man'.
He said he was born to 'working class, low-income family... who decided to take a stand to ensure a future for my people'.
'My parents are of Scottish, Irish and English stock. I had a regular childhood, without any great issues,' he wrote.
The gunman said he carried out the massacre to 'directly reduce immigration rates to European lands'.
He said New Zealand was not his 'original choice' for the attack but said the location would show 'that nowhere in the world was safe'.
'We must ensure the existence of our people, and a future for white children,' he wrote.
He wrote that the shooting was an 'act of revenge on the invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history'.
'For the enslavement of millions of Europeans taken from their lands by the Islamic slavers... for the thousands of European lives lost to terror attacks throughout European lands,' the gunman wrote.
He shared photos to his now-removed Twitter account ahead of the attacks, showing weapons and military-style equipment.
In posts online before the attack Tarrant wrote about 'taking the fight to the invaders myself'.
'THERE WERE BODIES ALL OVER ME'
Mohammed Jama, the former president of the Muslim Association of Canterbury, said a man with a gun entered the Christchurch Mosque about 1.40pm local time on Friday.
A man inside the mosque at the time of the shooting said there 'bodies all over me'.
Witnesses inside the mosque reported seeing 15 people being shot, including children.
A man who escaped the mosque during the shooting said he saw his wife lying dead on the footpath.
'My wife is dead,' he said while wailing.
Witness Ahmad Al-Mahmoud described one of the shooters as being white, with blond hair and wearing a helmet and bulletproof vest.
'The guy was wearing like an army [suit]. He had a big gun and lots of bullets. He came through and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere,' Ahmad Al-Mahmoud told Stuff.
'They had to smash the door - the glass from the window and the door - to get everyone out.
'We were trying to get everyone to run away from this area. I ran away from the car park, jumping through the back [yard] of houses.'
Al-Mahmoud said the man was 'wearing a helmet' and must have fired 'hundreds' of gunshots.
Another witness said he ran behind the mosque to call the police after hearing the gun go off.
'I heard the sound of the gun. And the second one I heard, I ran. Lots of people were sitting on the floor. I ran behind the mosque, rang the police.
'I saw one gun on the floor. Lots of people died and injured.'
Another survivor, identified only as Nour, told the New Zealand Herald that the gunman shot multiple worshipers outside before carrying out his rampage inside the mosque where he shot people indiscriminately.
HEROIC POLICE OFFICER INTERVENES
A person suspected of being involved in the Christchurch mosque shooting was taken into custody on Friday afternoon in a dramatic roadside arrest.
Footage filmed by a passing motorist shows the suspect's grey station wagon wedged between the gutter and another police car, with its front wheels in the air spinning.
The suspect appeared to still be inside, as officers approached the vehicle with their weapons drawn.
One officer reached inside the vehicle and dragged a person out, as a second stood guard with their weapon drawn.
The suspect was seen wearing dark clothing, and in the footage an officer appears to have hit the person.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said there were 'some absolute acts of bravery' during the arrests of four people.
BANGLADESH CRICKET TEAM NARROWLY ESCAPED
Bangladesh players and support staff have been preparing for the third test of a series against New Zealand, set to begin on Saturday, and were walking through Hagley Park when shooting broke out at the Al Noor mosque.
Tweets from sports reporters and team members say the group 'just escaped' the shooting, which saw a man enter the mosque and fire multiple shots at dozens of people as they tried to flee.
The team's opening batsman, Tamim Iqbal said on Twitter the 'entire team got saved from active shooters'.
He said it was a 'frightening experience' and asked supporters to keep the team in their prayers.
Test captain Mushfiqur Rahim said Allah had saved the team.
'We r [sic] extremely lucky,' he wrote. 'Never want to see this things [sic] happen again... pray for us.'
Shrinivas Chandrasekaran, the team's performance and strategic analyst said they had 'just escaped active shooters'. He said their hearts were pounding and there was 'panic everywhere'.
ESPN cricinfo correspondent Mohammad Isam told the New Zealand Herald the team were 'not in a mental state to play cricket at all,' following the horrific attack.
'I think they want to go back home as soon as possible. I’m speaking from experience, I’m speaking from what I’ve heard,' he said.
'Everyone is at the Hagley Park dressing room ... two players are back at the hotel. They didn’t come out for the prayers so they are back at the hotel and the entire coaching staff are safe.'
The scheduled test between New Zealand and Bangladesh has been cancelled.
A witness told Radio New Zealand he heard shots fired and saw 'blood everywhere'.
Mr Jama said four people were injured and that he saw two people lying on the ground. He did not know if they were alive or dead, Stuff reported.
There may have been more than one shooter inside the mosque, the New Zealand Herald reported.
A man inside the mosque said he ran behind the building when he heard gunfire, One News reported.
He said he saw people lying on the ground in pools of blood.
A woman told the Christchurch Star she lay down in her car as four or five men came running towards her before hearing gunfire moments later.
Security expert Paul Buchanan told RNZ the killings were 'the worst terrorist attack' ever to take place in New Zealand.
The gunman's rifle and magazines reportedly had the names of other shooters who had killed people at mosques written on them.
A bomb was found in a grey Subaru Legacy three kilometres from the scene of the shooting on Strickland Street, The Guardian reported.
Another witness said people had to smash windows to escape the mosque.
A second gunman was reportedly seen near another mosque in Linwood and an armed police presence is there.
Twenty armed police officers cleared areas in the suburb of Linwood, and led about five men with their hands on their heads out of a building in the area.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the shooting was a 'serious and evolving situation with an active shooter'.
'Police are responding with its full capability to manage the situation, but the risk environment remains extremely high,' he said.
'Police recommend that residents across Christchurch remain off the streets and indoors until further notice. Christchurch schools will be locked down until further notice.'
The lockdown ended after about three hours.
The shooting happened near Cathedral Square where thousands of children were protesting for climate change action.
The protesting children were told to go home to ensure their safety.
New Zealand Police said armed officers were deployed to Hagley Park and at Christchurch Hospital.
A witness said they heard at least 50 gunshots and saw people lying on the ground.
Another witness said he saw a car chasing two people from outside the mosque along Deans Avenue.
He said the people in the car began shooting at the two people.
Two abandoned backpacks sparked another bomb scare at Auckland's largest train station. A bomb disposal robot was used to investigate the backpacks while pedestrians were cordoned off.
A 'controlled explosion' was heard soon after.
Christchurch Boys' and Girls' high schools were both been placed into lockdown. The restrictions were lifted hours later.
Parents of students at Christchurch Girls' High School were sent a text message telling them the lockdown was 'not an exercise'.
The Canterbury District Health Board activated its mass casualty plan and the city council placed its central city buildings into lockdown.
Rugby star Sonny Bill Williams shared an emotional tribute to those killed in Friday's mosque shooting.
In a video posted to Twitter, a tearful Williams, who is a proud Muslim, said he 'couldn't put into words how I feel right now'.
The 33-year-old told followers he was sending prayers to the loved ones of those killed, and praying himself the victims would end up in paradise.
'Just sending my duas (prayers) and Mashallah (god willing) - everyone that's been killed today in Christchurch... your families ... [I'm] just sending my duas to your loved ones and Mashallah you guys are all in paradise,' he said.
'I'm just deeply, deeply saddened that this would happen in New Zealand.'
One per cent of New Zealand's population of five million are Muslim, according to government statistics.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.