Authorities in New Zealand have brought murder charges against a man suspected of being the gunman in the country’s worst mass shooting in which 49 people were killed and more than 20 wounded.
New Zealand Police said three people were in custody and one had been charged with murder on March 15 following the shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch during Friday prayers.
Authorities said the suspect would appear in Christchurch District Court on Saturday morning. Two others remain in custody.
A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings, 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, an Australian citizen, left a 74-page manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for the attack, although police have not confirmed he is the shooter.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed one of the suspects was an Australian national.
“I can confirm that the individual who was taken into custody I have been advised is an Australian-born citizen,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
New Zealand Police provided an update on the investigation, announcing that evacuations had been ordered at a residence in the city of Dunedin.
“Police are currently in attendance at a property of Somerville Street, Dunedin,” the New Zealand force said on Twitter. Dunedin is a city near the southern tip of New Zealand, around 225 miles from Christchurch.
“This is a location of interest in relation to the serious firearms incident in Christchurch today,” the police tweeted. “Evacuations of properties in the immediate area have taken place as a precaution.”
1/2 Police are currently in attendance at a property on
Somerville Street, Dunedin. This is a location of interest in relation to the
serious firearms incident in Christchurch today.
Evacuations of properties in the immediate area have taken place
as a precaution.
— New Zealand Police (@nzpolice) March 15, 2019
Two explosives had been found earlier in the vehicle the gunman was driving.
“There were a number of explosive devices attached to vehicles that have been rendered safe by defence forces … that cuts to the seriousness of the situation,” said Police Commissioner Mike Bush in a press conference.
Announcing the murder charges Friday, Bush did not say whether the same shooter was believed to be responsible for both attacks.
The other two individuals detained are a man and a woman, according to authorities.
None of those in custody had been on any watch list.
“It doesn’t get any more serious,” Bush said. “The attackers were apprehended by local police staff. There have been some absolute acts of bravery.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the national security threat level was being raised to the second-highest level.
“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said, call this “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
All mosques in New Zealand had been asked to shut their doors and armed guards posted at them, police said, adding they were not actively looking for any other “identified suspects.”
A gunman broadcast live footage on Facebook of the attack on one of the mosques, showing him driving to the scene, entering the building and shooting people at random.
Witnesses described the shooter as dressed in a bulletproof vest and a helmet as he opened fire at the Masjid Al Noor mosque at 1:40 p.m. local time, where there could have been as many as 300 people praying.
“He had a big gun … he came and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere,” said witness Ahmad Al-Mahmoud, according to Reuters. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.
Video footage—not corroborated independently for authenticity—shows worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, laying huddled on the floor. After spending more than two minutes inside the mosque spraying people with bullets, the gunman then walks outside to the street, where he shoots at people on the sidewalk.
Children’s screams can be heard in the distance as he returns to his car to get another rifle.
The gunman then walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground. After walking back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car and drives away. The video then cuts out.
Witness Len Peneha told The Associated Press he saw the gunman enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.
Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said after the gunman drove away, he went into the mosque to try and 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. “It’s unbelievably nutty. I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”
There was a second shooting at a mosque in the neighborhood of Linwood that killed at least seven people.
Police later announced 41 people had been killed at the Al Noor mosque, seven at the Linwood Masjid Mosque and one died in the hospital.
Hospitals said children were among the victims.
What’s known about the suspect?
Australian citizen Brenton Tarrant is believed to be the key suspect in the Christchurch mosque mass shootings.
Tarrant worked as a personal trainer at Big River Gym in the northern New South Wales city of Grafton, Australia, according to Australia’s ABC news.
Gym manager Tracey Gray confirmed the man who filmed the attack and streamed it online was Tarrant.
“I honestly can’t believe that somebody I have probably had daily dealings with and had shared conversations and interacted with would be capable of something to this extreme,” Gray told the news outlet.
Shortly before the attack began, an anonymous post on the discussion site 8chan said the writer was going to “carry out an attack against the invaders” and included links to a Facebook live stream, in which the shooting appeared, and a manifesto.
The 74-page manifesto was titled The Great Replacement. Allegedly authored by Tarrant, the document cited “white genocide,” a term typically used by racist groups to refer to immigration and the growth of minority populations, as his motivation.
Tarrant described himself as an “eco-fascist” in his writings. “I was a communist, then an anarchist and finally a libertarian before becoming an eco-fascist,” he wrote.
A Twitter account with the handle @brentontarrant posted on Wednesday images of a rifle and other military gear decorated with names and messages connected to white nationalism. What looked like the same weapons appeared in the livestream of the mosque attack on Friday.
In the manifesto, Tarrant describes himself as “just an ordinary white man, 28 years old. Born in Australia to a working class, low-income family.”
He also explains he carried out the attack to avenge “thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders.”
With additional reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press.
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Author: Tom Ozimek