‘I Saw Dead People Everywhere’: 49 Dead in New Zealand Mosque Shootings
Suspect live-streamed one of the attacks on the Muslim community in Christchurch.
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand—At least 49 people were killed after shooting attacks on two New Zealand mosques that left behind scenes of carnage, a booby-trapped car and a sickening live-streamed video.
“There were bodies all over me,” one survivor told reporters in the city of Christchurch on what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described as New Zealand’s “darkest day.”
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the man who is in his late 20s has been charged with murder and is scheduled to appear in court Saturday morning. The Daily Beast is not releasing the name because it has not been confirmed by authorities. Three other people have been arrested but at least one of these may not be related to the shooting.
Seven people were killed at the Linwood Islamic Centre and 41 were murdered at the Masjid Al Noor, also in Christchurch. One patient later died in hospital and there are 42 gunshot victims being treated.
Among those hospitalized are two critical patients, including a five-year-old child who was transported to a second hospital Friday morning.
“This can only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said.
Survivors, many of whom were suffering gunshot wounds, scrambled out of the Al Noor mosque and took refuge in nearby houses as the attacked fired indiscriminately into the crowd of worshippers. Many of those who were attending the busy Friday prayers have not been responding to the frantic calls of desperate relatives and friends.
Sophie Nears, 19, told the New Zealand Herald that her friend had called shouting that he'd been shot in the leg: “I've never heard him cry before. He was screaming that heaps of people were dead and then the line just cut out.”
In a televised speech, U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, called the shooting a “hateful assault” and offered “unwavering solidarity to the government and its people in this hour of darkness.”
“I want to offer my personal condolences to the nation in New Zealand in the wake of the grotesque mosque attacks in Christchurch,” he said, offering any any assistance the country may need.
Pompeo's statement followed similar messages from President Donald Trump and the White House condemned the shootings, though both notably did not mention terrorism or the attack on the county’s Muslim community.
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said an Australian citizen was arrested, and described the suspect as an “extremist right-wing violent terrorist.”
Police said they were aware of “distressing footage” of the massacre that appeared to have been filmed and streamed by a suspect, who wore military-style gear and mowed down men, women and children gathered for Friday prayers.
The video posted online appears to show the shooter using rifles emblazoned with white writing that references other recent mass killers, historical generals who fought in battle against Muslim countries, and the Battle of Tours in 732 A.D—when a Frankish army defeated a Muslim one.
The BBC reported the music that play's in the suspect's car is a marching anthem for Serbian nationalist paramilitary units “known as Chetniks during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. It praises Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who was convicted of genocide and war crimes.”
Recorded on a GoPro camera, it shows the shooter in kneepads and athletic gear driving to the Al Noor mosque with a small arsenal of rifles and ammunition.
After walking inside he sprays worshippers with bullets and reloads for a second assault. He then returns to his vehicle and begins to fire at passersby while making a sickening comment.
“There wasn’t even time to aim due to so many targets,” he said.
The person who posted it was also linked to an online manifesto—a meme-laden white supremacist text that called for the murder of Muslims.
Among the survivors was 14-year-old Idris Khairudin, who decided to sit in the back row of the congregation instead of praying inside the Al Noor Mosque.
While waiting for prayers to begin, the Malaysian teenager suddenly heard gunshots and glass breaking. When someone yelled “run,” his sister told a local newspaper, Khairudin climbed over the mosque walls and ran nearly a mile to escape.
“Without any hesitation, Idris hurried out the building and climbed over the wall of the mosque, before taking cover for a while and fleeing the scene,” his sister, Nur Balqis Khairudin, who also lives in Christchurch told The Malay Mail.
The 20-year-old student explained that her younger brother called her after fleeing the scene and met her at her school, Hagley College, before they called their mother to say they were safe.
In addition to the attacks on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, Bush said, there were two improvised explosive devices attached to a car in the area of the attacks. One of the bombs has since been disabled, and explosives specialists were working to make the second device safe.
Witnesses from inside and outside the Masjid Al Noor, where hundreds of people were thought to be attending services at the time of the shooting, described scenes of carnage and chaos.
“My wife is dead,” a man who fled the mosque told the Christchurch Press.
Dr. Mustafa Farouk, the head of the Federation of Islamic Federations of New Zealand, told Radio New Zealand there would have likely been between 300 and 500 people present at the mosque for Friday services.
One witness said the gunman was wearing a military-style jacket and a helmet.
“He had a big gun and a lot of bullets and he came through and started shooting like everyone in the mosque, like everywhere, and they have to smash the door and the glass from the window and from the small door to try and get out,” he said.
Mohan Ibrahim told The New Zealand Herald he was in the Masjid Al Noor when he heard the shots.
"At first we thought it was an electric shock but then all these people started running," he said.
"I still have friends inside. I have been calling my friends but there are many I haven't heard from. I am scared for my friends' lives."
Rahimi Ahmad, a 39-year-old factory technician who moved to New Zealand from Malaysia four years ago with his wife and two kids, was attending Friday prayers at Masjid Al Noor when the attack started, The Malay Mail reported.
Ahmad, who was at the mosque with his 11-year-old son, was shot in the abdomen and spine and immediately played dead.
According to his family, Ahman remains in critical condition and is due to undergo more surgery to remove bullets on Saturday morning.
“When I heard about the mass shooting, I tried calling my daughter-in-law but I could not contact her,” Ahmad’s mother, Rokiah Mohammad, told The Malay Mail. “I was so worried because he goes to a mosque near his house which looked like the mosque in the news.”
Ahmad is among two Malaysians who were reportedly injured in the attack, the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed on Friday.
“Malaysia condemns in the strongest term, the senseless act of terror on innocent civilians and hopes that those responsible for this barbaric crime be brought to justice,” the ministry said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families of today’s shooting incident in New Zealand.”
Families, who fear the bodies of their loved ones, are inside the mosques have gathered at the police cordons desperate for more information. Some are frustrated that they are not being allowed to retrieve bodies and start the burial process in according with Islamic law.
Benjamin Jellie told the newspaper he heard at least three bursts of gunfire and then saw people jumping over the back fence of the mosque.
“Those coming over the fence, all adults and including at least three men, were screaming and crying,” Jellie said.
Len Peneha told The Guardian that he’d seen a man in black enter the mosque, and then dozens of shots, followed by people fleeing. Later, he said that he went inside to help and “I saw dead people everywhere.”
The second shooting occurred at Linwood Islamic Centre, where Syed Ahmed told the Christchurch Press he'd seen a gunman clad in camouflage and holding a motorcycle helmet, who opened fire as he approached the mosque. He said he heard the man screaming something but could not make out the words. The first to be hit were elderly people sitting on chairs. “They were basically all shot,” he told the newspaper.
While police have not yet publicly disclosed a motive in the shootings, the New Zealand PM said most of the victims were likely migrants or refugees.
The victim's of Friday's “unprecedented act of violence,” Ardern said, “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 have no place in New Zealand.”
— Pilar Melendez, Kelly Weill and Will Sommer contributed reporting