Forty people have been killed and more than more 20 seriously injured at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch after at least one gunman opened fire on worshipers.
Witnesses told media that a man dressed in a military-style, camouflage outfit, and carrying an automatic rifle had started randomly shooting people in the Al Noor mosque shortly after 1.40pm local time (12.40am GMT).
Video footage widely circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, showed him driving to one mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people inside.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police had also defused a number of improvised explosive devices found on vehicles after the mosque shootings.
Mr Bush confirmed police now have four suspects in custody – three men and one woman with one confirmed to be an Australian citizen. New Zealand’s Prime Minister said the suspects held extremist views, but had not been on any police watchlists.
Mr Bush warned it was not possible to assume that the attack was isolated to Christchurch, saying: “At this point in time we should never make assumptions.”
New Zealand had been placed on its highest security threat level.
A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for his actions. He said he considered it a terrorist attack.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there was no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme violence.
“Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here,” Ardern said.
“They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.”
“They should have been in a safe environment,” she said.
Police have asked all mosques across the country to close their doors today, advising people to stay away from them.