49 die in New Zealand mosque massacre

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Christchurch, March 15 (IANS) At least 49 people were massacred and 48 injured when gunmen said to be whites opened indiscriminate fire at two mosques during Friday prayers in Christchurch city in the deadliest terror attack in New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday was “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”. Calling the shootings “abhorrent”, Christchurch Police Commissioner Mike Bush said 41 people were killed at the Al Noor Mosque near Hagley Park and seven at the Linwood Avenue Mosque.

One person died in hospital, The New Zealand Herald reported. Nine people of Indian nationality or origin were missing after the massacre, High Commissioner Sanjiv Kohli said while offering condolences to those affected.

“As per updates received from multiple sources, there are 9 missing persons of indian nationality/origin. Official confirmation still awaited. Huge crime against humanity. Our prayers with their families,” Kohli tweeted.

Ahmed Jehangir, a man from Hyderabad, was among those shot at in the horrific massacre. He was injured and taken to hospital, his brother Khursheed Iqbal Jehangir said.

Ahmed, settled in New Zealand for 15 years, runs a Hyderabadi food restaurant near Al Noor Mosque.

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Witnesses said there were around 400 people in the Al Noor Mosque at the time of the attack and they ran for their lives after hearing gunshots. Around 100 were there in Linwood Avenue Mosque, the second mosque targeted. But not everyone was lucky to escape.

A man in his late 20s was charged with murder and will appear in court on Saturday morning, the police said. Two other men and one woman were detained and firearms and explosive devices were recovered.

Bush said one of those detained was later released, while officers were working to determine if the other two were involved.

The police did not name any of the suspects, but a man identifying himself as Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old born in Australia, livestreamed a 17-minute footage on Facebook showing him driving to a mosque, entering and shooting randomly at people inside.

The Australian also posted a manifesto online before the attacks, in which he espoused far-right and anti-immigrant ideology.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the suspected attacker as an “extremist right-wing violent terrorist”.

The New Zealand Premier condemned the ideology of the killers, saying: “You may have chosen us but we utterly reject and condemn you.” None of the suspects were on terrorism watchlists.

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Hassan, 29, a Sri Lankan Muslim who has lived in New Zealand for six months, said he came to the country for its “peace, and because there are no wars”.

He was at the Linwood mosque’s prayer service when the shooting began. “The shooter was screaming a lot and waving the gun in every direction, shooting, shooting, shooting,” he said.

“I don’t know who of my friends is dead or alive now. I am waiting. The police told me: ‘I am sorry, this is the first time this has ever happened in this country.'”

BBC quoted other witnesses as saying that they ran for their lives and saw people bleeding on the ground outside the Al Noor Mosque. The gunman targeted the men’s prayer room in the mosque and then moved to the women’s room.

The Bangladesh cricket team touring New Zealand had a narrow escape as the entire team had gone to one of the mosques near Hagley Park for Friday prayers.

Bangladesh Cricket Board spokesman Jalal Yunus said the team was about to go inside when the killings began. The New Zealand-Bangladesh third Test match set to be played in Christchurch was axed.

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The government advised people not to go to mosques until further notice. All schools were shut down.

One man, Robert Weatherhead, told Newstalk that he took in people who escaped from the Al Noor mosque. He described the gunman as “white, aged in his 30s or 40s and wearing a uniform”.

Another witness, who was in the front row of devotees, told the New Zealand Herald that the suspect first shot people outside, adding that he heard the gun being reloaded about three times.

The UK, the US and France stepped up security at mosques following the tragedy.

Global leaders, including US President Donald Trump, his predecessor Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron sent their messages of support to New Zealand.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation Secretary General Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen said: “The brutal crime had shocked and hurt the feelings of all Muslims around the world and served as a further warning on the obvious dangers of hate, intolerance, and Islamophobia.”

–IANS

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