At least 49 people have been killed and dozens of others injured at mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

One man has been charged with murder, after police detained four people in what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has referred to as a well-planned “terrorist attack”.

One of those detained may have had nothing to do with the attack, said Police Commissioner Mike Bush. He said investigators were working to find out the involvement of two others detained in possession of firearms.

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The main attack occurred at the Masjid Al Noor Mosque in central Christchurch during Friday afternoon prayers at around 1.45pm local time. Ms Ardern said 30 people were killed there.

Witnesses have also described shooting during Friday afternoon prayers at the suburban Linwood Masjid Mosque. The prime minister said 10 people had been killed there.

Police said the country’s defence force had defused a number of improvised explosive devices that were attached to vehicles stopped after the attacks.

The regional hospital authority released a statement saying 48 people in Christchurch were being treated for gunshot wounds. “Injuries range from critical to minor,” said chief executive David Meates.

The suspects

Police said they had taken four people – three men and one woman – into custody.

A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings has reportedly left a 74-page, far-right, anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his motivations.

He said he was a 28-year-old white Australian. The Australian prime minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the people arrested was an Australian-born citizen.

Ms Ardern at a news conference alluded to anti-immigrant sentiment as the possible motive. “It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” she said.

The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting is believed to have livestreamed at least one of the attacks. Police urged people not to share the footage.

Jacinda Ardern (Getty)

Threat level

New Zealand’s prime minister said the threat level had been raised from low to high. Ms Ardern said all mosques across the country should remain closed on Friday.

Mr Bush said anybody who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand to stay away today. He said police were not aware of other suspects beyond those who were detained but they could not be certain.

Ms Ardern said at her press conference “there could be others involved”

A lockdown on all schools in Christchurch was lifted, with parents informed they could collect their children.

Masjid Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue (EPA)

Witnesses

Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.

Mr Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway, and fled.

He said he then went into the mosque to try to help. “I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said.

Mr Peneha said the gunman was white and was wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.

Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer-goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.

Security alert has been raised following attacks (AFP/Getty Images)

Reaction

Prime Minister Theresa May has led the UK condemnation of the Christchurch mosque shootings.

In a tweet she sent her “deepest condolences to the people of New Zealand after the horrifying terrorist attack in Christchurch”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the attacks on mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch calling it the “latest example of rising racism and Islamophobia.”

Mr Erdogan said: “On behalf of my country, I offer my condolences to the Islamic world and the people of New Zealand, who have been targeted by this deplorable act.”

An Australian politician has sparked outrage after talking about the “fear” of the “Muslim presence” following the attack. Independent Queensland senator Fraser Anning claimed “what it highlights is the growing fear within our community, both in Australia and New Zealand, of the increasing Muslim presence”.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison condemned the senator’s remarks and said: “New Zealand, like Australia, is home to people from all faiths, cultures and backgrounds.

“There is absolutely no place in either of our countries for the hatred and intolerance that has bred this extremist, terrorist violence and we condemn it.”

New Zealand’s former prime minister Helen Clark told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Now such a crime has come to us, and this will be a cause for profound reflection in New Zealand. How could such people have been in our community and prepared to carry out a heinous crime like this?”


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