WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Forty people were killed and more than 20 were seriously injured in the shooting of two mosques in New Zealand on Friday in what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called a terrorist attack.
The massacre of at least one bandit during Friday prayers in the city of Christchurch is the worst mass shootout in the country and has been condemned throughout Asia.
"We believe that 40 people lost their lives in this act of extreme violence," Ardern said.
"It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack."
Ardern said that New Zealand had been placed at its highest level of security threat. He said four people in police custody had extremist views, but they were not on any police checklist.
Shooting was broadcast on social media, apparently taken by a hired assassin and published live online while the mosque was being attacked, randomly entering and firing at people inside.
Shooting of the New Zealand mosque
The worshipers, perhaps dead or wounded, lay curled up on the floor of the mosque, showed the video. Reuters was unable to confirm the authenticity of the movie.
A man who said he was in the Al Noor mosque told the press that the gunman was white, blond and wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest. The man broke into the mosque while the faithful knelt to pray.
"He had a big gun … he came and started shooting at everyone in the mosque, everywhere," said the man, Ahmad Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others fled by breaking through a glass door.
Radio New Zealand cited a witness inside the mosque saying he had heard shots fired and at least four people were lying on the ground and "there was blood everywhere."  Ardern said that 30 people were killed in the mosque of Al Noor, the main mosque in the city, and another 10 in a mosque in the suburb of Linwood.
"This is one of the darkest days in New Zealand," he said.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said that four people – three men and one woman – were arrested.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that one of the men in custody was Australian.
Police told IED, improvised explosive devices
The online movie, which appeared to have been captured by a camera attached to the bandit's head, showed red petrol cans in the back of his car, along with weapons.
All mosques in New Zealand had been aske
The Bangladesh cricket team was coming for Friday prayers when the shooting occurred but all the members were safe, a team coach told Reuters.
Political and Islamic leaders throughout Asia have expressed their disgust for
"Indonesia strongly condemns this act of shooting, especially in a place of worship while a prayer was underway Friday, "Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a statement
(Report by Charlotte Greenfield and Praveen Menon; Edited by Robert Birsel and Michael Perry)