Death toll rises to 50 in New Zealand mosque shootings
The staggering death toll from the mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques has climbed to 50, according to New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush.
The number of injured also increased to 50, Bush added. Of those injured, 36 remain in the hospital and two are in critical condition, he said.
Brenton Harris Tarrant, 28, appears to be the only person in custody that has been linked to the attack. Bush told reporters on Sunday that three other people who were initially detained were not involved in the shootings.
Tarrant appeared in court Saturday and has been charged with one count of murder. Authorities have said that more charges would be laid. He was remanded in custody and will reappear in court April 5.
Authorities have declined to discuss potential motives for the attack but an 87-page manifesto from the suspect, also posted on social media just before the shooting began, was filled with anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim screeds.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office received an email with the document minutes before the attack began.
Ardern’s chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, told CNN that the email was sent to a “generic” email account maintained by staff, and was not seen by the Prime Minister.
Ardern visited members of the Muslim community at a refugee center in Christchurch Saturday, where she paid tribute to victims of Friday’s shooting and conveyed a message of support.
Earlier, she gave more details about the attack. Two lightly armed community police officers brought the atrocity to an end after a terrifying 36 minutes, she said, apparently running the gunman’s car to the side of the road.
The gunman intended to continue his attack if he hadn’t been stopped, she said. “There were two other firearms in the vehicle that the offender was in and it absolutely was his intention to continue with his attack,” Ardern told reporters.
Focus on victims
With the main suspect in custody, authorities turned their focus to the victims and the families of those who lost their lives. “Our other key priority is making sure that those people so horribly affected by these events get the support and welfare that they need,” the New Zealand Police said in a statement.
“There are many, many victims of this tragic event and we are giving every possible support to them.”
Ardern stressed that families that lost a loved one — particularly if they were dependent on the victim — will receive financial support.
Makeshift memorials have sprung up in the area around the mosques, with flowers and notes bearing messages of hope and love. “They may take our innocence but we will show the world the meaning of love and compassion,” said one note taped to flowers left on a road divider.
Many of the victims hailed from around the world. Some were from Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia, Ardern said. At least two Jordanian citizens were killed and five others wounded in the shootings, the country’s Foreign Ministry said.
Syrian refugee Khaled Mustafa was killed in the attack, Syrian Solidarity New Zealand said on its Facebook page. He with his two sons when the shooter opened fire during Friday prayers.
“Khaled Mustafa is a Syrian Refugee who has come with his family (wife and three children) to NZ, which they thought was a safe heaven (sic), in 2018,” Syrian Solidarity New Zealand said in a post. One of Khaled’s sons underwent a six-hour surgery on Friday night, according to the group.
A five-year-old girl was critically wounded and had surgery but remained in serious condition, her uncle, Sabri al-Daraghmeh, told Jordan’s al-Mamlaka TV. She was shot in the face, the abdomen and the leg. Al-Daraghmeh told the station that his brother was also wounded and remained in stable condition. He was shot in the abdomen and the leg.
Four Pakistani citizens were also wounded, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal said Friday. Five other Pakistani citizens were still unaccounted for, he said in a statement posted on social media. People from over 15 nationalities were killed, according to a list compiled by the Red Cross.
One of the victims, Afghan-born Haji Daoud Nabi, sought asylum in New Zealand in 1977.
Some of those who survived the attack described efforts to frustrate the gunman. Survivor Ahmed Khan, who had dodged a bullet fired by the shooter, ran to a mosque to warn others.
Inside he found a friend bleeding — he had just been shot in his right arm. “I said to him ‘calm down the police is here now,” Khan recalled. “And then the gunman came through the window and shot him — when I was holding him — in the head. And he was dead.”
In the video posted online by the shooter, he is greeted as he arrives at the first location, the Al Noor mosque, by a man who says “hello brother.” Less than a second later, the attacker raises his semi-automatic shotgun and fires his first round of bullets.
Traveled around the world
Tarrant is an Australian citizen who had been living in the southern city of Dunedin, about 225 miles from Christchurch, Ardern said. He had traveled around the world and was in New Zealand sporadically, she added.
Officials said that he had no criminal history in New Zealand or Australia and, as with the other two people detained in connection with the attack, had not drawn the attention of the intelligence community for extremist views.
A senior Turkish official told CNN Tarrant had traveled to Turkey a number of times and spent “an extended period of time” there. Turkey is “currently investigating the suspect’s movements and contacts within the country,” the official told CNN. The suspect may also have traveled to other countries in Europe, Asia and Africa, the official added.
In a chapter of Tarrant’s hate-filled manifesto he called for the assassination of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declaring “he must bleed his last.” State broadcaster TRT, citing Turkish authorities, said officials were investigating whether Tarrant was in the country “to carry out a terror attack and/ or an assassination.”
Erdogan condemned Friday’s attack in a post on Twitter, calling it “the latest example of rising racism and Islamophobia.”
PM calls for gun laws to change
The main suspect, who obtained a gun license in November 2017, used two semi-automatic weapons, two shotguns and a lever-action firearm in the attacks, Ardern said.
“While work is being done as to the chain of events that lead to both the holding of this gun license and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now — our gun laws will change,” she told reporters. “It’s the time for change,” Ardern said.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said he welcomed Ardern’s proposed changes to gun laws. “I was very happy to hear the Prime Minister’s comments this morning that there will be a change in the gun law. But I can’t say any more than that,” said Bush at a Christchurch press conference on Saturday.
Israeli politician Isaac Herzog said some synagogues in New Zealand would be closed on Saturday, the Jewish day of prayer. “For the first time in history synagogues in NZ are closed on Shabbat following the shocking massacre of Muslims in Christchurch,” Herzog tweeted Friday.
The Wellington Jewish Community Centre also posted to its Facebook page that it would be closed Sunday “on police advice.”
Herzog said in the tweet, “The Jewish Agency and the NZ Jewish Council stand in solidarity with the bereaved families. We are united in fighting violent hatred and racism.“