The city of Christchurch in New Zealand has had its fair share of disaster in this decade alone. From 2010 to 2012 it was beset by a period of earthquakes. The worst of these on February 22, 2011 saw about 185 people killed and severe damage inflicted to many of its buildings. Tearing down the unsalvageable structures which numbered up to 1,500 took until 2013, and reconstruction efforts continue right to this day. Now the city and the country itself are both reeling from a new calamity, one they have never expected to happen to them: a coordinated terrorist attack.
CNN reports that armed gunmen entered two mosques in Christchurch this Friday, March 15, and opened fire at the assembled congregations during morning prayers. This resulted in a total of 49 dead and about 20 injured from the Noor and Linwood mosques, at Deans Avenue and Linwood Avenue respectively, and located at the city’s center. It was something that New Zealand as a whole never imagined could ever visit their shores. Noor mosque had the larger number of fatalities at 41 to Linwood’s seven; the eighth casualty passed away in the hospital from gunshot wounds.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the incident and its particulars in a televised press conference Friday morning. She candidly described the synchronized shootings as a terrorist attack, and noted that both mosques have been put under police lockdown. The country’s police commissioner Mike Bush adds that they were able to put four suspects under custody, three male and one female. Ardern elaborates that one of the detained has publicly identified himself as an Australian. Though not specified which, only one of the suspects was found with a firearm. In addition, police have found vehicles near the shootout scenes as having had explosives attached.
In an effort to maintain safety, Commissioner Bush had asked Muslims in New Zealand not to visit any mosques for the rest of Friday, at least until the police can issue a further statement that the situation is now secure. Prime Minister Arden described the attacks as one of the darkest days in New Zealand, adding, “What has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence…[These attackers have] no place in New Zealand.” While police have not yet confirmed motivations on the part of the suspects, a social media account purportedly belonging to one of them had posted an unsigned manifesto, 87 pages long, filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, along with proposals for launching a terrorist attack.
Image courtesy of Radio NZ