On Friday afternoon, March 15, four gunmen stormed into two mosques in Christchurch, a city in New Zealand. As of now, 49 people are dead and several others have been injured. One of the shooters, Brenton Tarrant, posted a lengthy white nationalist manifesto online and even live streamed the shooting.
Authorities have also asked for mosques to be shut nationally. They are also urging people to stay indoors.
New Zealand Police are treating this as an active incident.
“The incident remains fluid and information is still coming to hand”, they said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence.”
Christchurch Hospital stated that it is treating about 48 patients, ranging from children to adults, for gunshot wounds.
Who are the shooters?
New Zealand Police said that three men and one woman have been taken into custody and are being interrogated. None of these people are on any terrorist watchlists in New Zealand or Australia.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said that one man in his late-20s has been charged with murder. He also added that authorities cannot rule out the idea that there are more suspects at large.
“At this stage we will not be discussing the offenders’ possible motivations or the causes of this incident”, said the department.
There are no official details on who these suspects are or how they are connected to the shootings.
However, people believe that this was a racially and religiously motivated hate crime as one of shooters uploaded a lengthy, racist manifesto before he opened fire.
Identifying himself as 28-year-old born in Australia, Brenton Tarrant posted a manifesto that calls non-western immigration an “invasion”.
Tarrant praises white nationalists and spews immense anti-Muslim rhetoric in this document.
Explaining why he attacked, Tarrant said, “To most of all show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own and that, as long as a white man still lives, they will NEVER conquer our lands and they will never replace our people.”
He is being likened to Anders Breivik, a Norwegian mass murderer, who also wrote a similar manifesto calling for the persecution of Muslims in 2011.
He also live streamed himself shooting at prayer-goers.
Facebook said that it has removed Tarrant’s Facebook and Instagram accounts as well as the livestreamed video.
The social media company added that it was also removing any praise or support for the shooters or the crime. Twitter has also suspended his account.
This extremely graphic footage of the shooting along with copies of Tarrant’s manifesto have been circulating online. The police said they are working to have this content removed and are urging people not to share it.
Mayor of Christchurch Lianne Dalziel revealed that these shootings were pre-planned.
“It is clear that an extremist moved here with the intention of carrying out a premeditated attack”, said Dalziel in a statement.
PM Ardern also informed the public that explosive devices attached to the shooter’s vehicles were found and disarmed.
What we know so far
The police have confirmed that shooters opened fire in two mosques at Christchurch, one at Deans Avenue, and one at Linwood Avenue.
A witness at Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue said that the firing went on for six minutes or more.
“I saw that some people were running out through the room I was in—some people had blood on their body and some were limping… I tried to get out and hid behind my car. The shooting went on for six minutes or more and I could hear crying and screaming”, he told BBC.
Police initially asked people to stay indoors and report suspicious activity to 111, the emergency telephone number in New Zealand. They also placed Christchurch schools and mosques across the country on lockdown.
The lockdown on schools has since been lifted. However, the mosques remain shut.
Radio New Zealand reported that a bus arrived outside the Linwood mosque to take people to their homes.
NZ Herald reported that 41 people were killed at Al Noor mosque and 7 were killed at the Linwood mosque.
Authorities are yet to confirm these numbers.
“We can confirm there have been a number of fatalities. We cannot at this stage confirm the precise number but it is significant”, said the police.
The Bangladeshi Cricket Team was offering prayers in the Al Noor mosque when the shooters opened fire. But, the team has returned safely to the hotel. The match between New Zealand and Bangladesh has been cancelled.
Authorities have also encountered suspicious packages at Britomart Station.
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) blew up the packages in a controlled explosion around 7:30 pm NZDT.
The police also cordoned off the area and blocked roads. Now, Auckland Transport said that train services have resumed.
Response from authorities
The New Zealand police have directed the public to the Restoring Family Links (RFL) website where people can register missing persons or themselves as alive.
The RFL website is being managed by Red Cross.
The NZDF and Ambulance and Fire departments are also actively helping the police.
Queensland Police said that a national Australian and New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee has been established to investigate the incident.
Dunedin Airport in New Zealand said that all flights between Christchurch and Dunedin have been cancelled.
In a press release, CEO of the Canterbury District Health Board, David Meates said that Churchchrist Hospital is treating 48 patients for gunshot wounds.
Meates has also asked people not to visit patients unless absolutely essential because there are already 200 family members at the hospital.
Meates said, “We envisage we will see an increasing demand for wellbeing support over the coming days and weeks as the reality and enormity of what has happened in our city today sinks in.”
PM Ardern reiterated support for minorities and declared that such violence has no place in New Zealand.
Attacks against Muslims
This attack is hardly a first among the many crimes motivated by white nationalism against minorities around the world.
In 2013, a 21-year-old white man, Dylan Roof, shot nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Like Tarrant, Roof had also written a long manifesto claiming that crimes against white people were being neglected.
In February, a white Canadian man, Alexandre Bissonnette, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing six Muslim men after storming into a mosque in Quebec.
In February 2019, an American Coast Guard, Lieutenant Christopher Hasson also stated that he drew inspiration from Breivik’s manifesto and planned to kill non-right wing public figures. Hasson was caught with a large arsenal of weaponry, including 17 firearms.
The rising tide of white nationalism has roots in populist, far-right leaders and movements that lambaste immigration.
This “far-right” ideology often has racist and xenophobic undertones that reinforce stereotypes such as claiming that black people abuse welfare schemes and Muslims are violent jihadists.
India suffers from a similar contagion of this ideology as well. In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in mob violence and lynchings that target the Muslim community. Escalating Indo-Pak tensions have further fuelled this intense anti-Muslim bigotry.
Poor law enforcement and lax gun laws make such incidents of violence increasingly common all over the world. Moreover, the tendency for exhibitionism on free platforms, and anonymity afforded by social media to online trolls, have made the spread of discrimination and hatred uncontrollable.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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