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March 16, 2019

Massacre of Muslims by terrorist on hatred blitz

Top Story

March 16, 2019

CHRISTCHURCH: One of "right-wing extremists", who call Muslims terrorists, committed terrorism against Muslims in otherwise peaceful New Zealand. Armed with semi-automatic weapons, the terrorist rampaged through two mosques in the quiet New Zealand city of Christchurch during afternoon prayers Friday, killing 49 worshippers and wounding dozens more.

The attacker live-streamed footage of him going room-to-room, victim to victim, shooting the wounded from close range as they struggled to crawl away. A 28-year-old Australian-born man has been arrested and charged with murder.

He is set to appear at the Christchurch District Court early Saturday. Two other men remain in custody, although their link to the attack is unknown. The chief suspect allegedly published a racist "manifesto" on social media before the attack, featuring conspiracy theories about Europeans being displaced, and details of two years of preparation and radicalisation leading up to the shootings. His two targets were the Masjid al Noor mosque, where 41 people died, and a second, smaller mosque in the suburb of Linwood, where seven more died. The remaining victim succumbed in hospital. The dead include women and children. Around 48 people were treated for gunshot wounds at Christchurch Hospital, including young children, with injuries ranging from critical to minor.

The survivors included 17 members of Bangladesh´s cricket team, whose game against New Zealand on Saturday has been postponed, and a Palestinian man who fled for his life after seeing someone being shot in the head.

"I heard three quick shots, then after about 10 seconds it started again. It must have been an automatic -- no one could pull a trigger that quick," the man who did not wish to be named, told AFP. "Then people started running out. Some were covered in blood," he said. New Zealand police described the footage shot by the gunman as "extremely distressing" and warned web users that they could be liable for up to 10 years in jail for sharing such "objectionable content".

In addition to the footage -- which AFP has verified, but is not distributing -- a number of pictures were posted to a social media account showing a semi-automatic weapon covered in the names of historical figures, many of whom were involved in the killing of Muslims.

The attack has shocked New Zealanders, who are used to seeing around 50 murders a year in the entire country of 4.8 million and pride themselves on living in a secure and welcoming place.

Police, who initially imposed a city-wide lockdown, sent armed officers to a number of scenes and the threat level in the nation was raised from "low" to "high". In Auckland, 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) away, two unattended bags left near a railway station were detonated by military explosives experts.

Police also attended a property in Dunedin which they believe is linked to the attack and evacuated nearby residents.

The southeastern city was named in the suspect´s manifesto as the original target for his attack. Police warned Muslims all over the country not to visit mosques "anywhere in New Zealand" in the wake of the Christchurch attacks. Friday is Islam´s holy day.

Christchurch city council offered a helpline for parents looking for kids attending a mass climate change rally near the shooting. The attack has shocked the local Muslim population, many of whom had come to New Zealand as refugees.

The government has been vocal in its support for opening the doors to those suffering from wars in Syria, Afghanistan and beyond. One witness told he was praying when he heard shooting -- and then saw his wife lying dead on the footpath outside when he fled.

Another man said he saw children being shot. "There were bodies all over," he said. The Bangladesh cricket team -- which had been in Christchurch for a test match and was about to go into the mosque when the attack happened -- all escaped without injury

"They are safe. But they are mentally shocked. We have asked the team to stay confined in the hotel," he told AFP. Mass shootings are very rare in New Zealand, which tightened its gun laws to restrict access to semi-automatic rifles in 1992, two years after a mentally ill man shot dead 13 people in the South Island town of Aramoana.

However, anyone over 16 can apply for a standard firearms licence after doing a safety course, which allows them to purchase and use a shotgun unsupervised. Christchurch, a relatively small city on New Zealand´s south island, hit global headlines in 2011 when it was struck by a deadly earthquake. More than 180 people died and the city´s historic cathedral was toppled in the disaster.

A solemn New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the deadly mosque shootings in Christchurch had plunged the country into one of its "darkest days".

"Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence," Ardern said in an address to a shocked nation.

"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. "There is no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence," Ardern added.

She said, "For now, my thoughts, and I´m sure the thoughts of all New Zealanders, are with those who have been affected, and also with their families." "It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack," said Ardern. "From what we know, it does appear to have been well planned."

Her comments were echoed by the leader of the opposition Simon Bridges. "We stand with and support the New Zealand Islamic community," he said.

"No one in this country should live in fear, no matter their race or religion, their politics or their beliefs."

Speaking in Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the gunman as "an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist". Morrison was among the foreign leaders who expressed their concern.

"I’m horrified by the reports I´m following of the serious shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand," he said. He said, "The situation is still unfolding but our thoughts and prayers are with our Kiwi cousins."

"We stand here and condemn, absolutely the attack that occurred today by an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist," Morrison told a press conference.

He confirmed media reports that the gunman who mowed down worshippers in the main mosque in the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch was an Australian-born citizen.

He said Australian security authorities were investigating any links between the country and the attack, but declined to provide further details about the Australian gunman.

An emotional Morrison offered his sympathies to Kiwis. "We are not just allies, we are not just partners, we are family," he said.

New Zealand police said they had detained three men and one woman after attacks on two Christchurch mosques, but they have not provided their identities.

"It is such a sad and devastating reminder of the evil that can be ever present about us," Morrison said of the attacks.

In Islamabad, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal said four Pakistanis had been injured in the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The spokesperson tweeted that four injured Pakistanis were being treated in hospitals while five Pakistanis were missing. Identities were being authenticated in consultation with local authorities, he said.

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed "Western hypocrisy" for the attacks on two mosques in New Zealand.

"Western hypocrisy of defending demonisation of Muslims as ´freedom of expression´ MUST end," Zarif tweeted.

"Impunity in Western ´democracies´ to promote bigotry leads to this," the tweet read. Iran´s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi earlier "strongly condemned the... inhuman and savage" attacks and urged New Zealand´s government to punish "the perpetrators... without any reservations".

In Washington, US President Donald Trump condemned as a "horrible massacre" twin mosque attacks in New Zealand.

"My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured," Trump wrote on Twitter after the attacks in Christchurch.

Trump, whose rhetoric is sometimes aligned with the far right in the United States, added: "The US stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!"

Moments before, his spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: "We stand in solidarity with the people of New Zealand and their government against this vicious act of hate."

"The United States strongly condemns the attack in Christchurch. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families," she added.

In addition to the main suspect, two other men are in custody, although their link to the attack is unknown.

In Vatican City, Pope Francis assured "all New Zealanders, and in particular the Muslim community, of his heartfelt solidarity."

The pope was "deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life caused by the senseless acts of violence," Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin said in a telegram.

Saudi Arabia announced that one of its nationals was injured in the attack that targeted two mosques in New Zealand.

The Saudi embassy in New Zealand revealed in a statement posted on its Twitter account that the citizen sustained minor injuries without revealing its identity.

It called upon Saudis in the Christchurch city where the attack took place to “be cautious, follow the local authorities’’ instructions and stay at home until situations are back to normal. The embassy also asked its nationals to contact the embassy in case of emergency.

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