Forty-nine people have been killed in a live-streamed massacre at two mosques in New Zealand after what the country’s prime minister described as one of the “darkest days” in its history.
A gun-wielding right-wing extremist identifying himself as an Australian of “Scottish, Irish and English stock” filmed himself as he carried out the terror attacks against Muslims during Friday prayers in Christchurch.
Amid messages of condolences and condemnation from world leaders, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland “must stand against Islamophobia and all hate” in the wake of the “horrific attacks”.
Police Scotland yesterday stepped up patrols at mosques while stressing there was no evidence of any “specific threat” to Scotland.
Authorities in New Zealand said the man in his late 20s had been arrested and charged with murder. He is due to appear in court today. Two other armed suspects have also been taken into custody.
At least 48 people, some of whom are in a critical condition, are being treated at Christchurch Hospital for gunshot wounds.
The gunman, who broadcast the attack on Facebook using a head-mounted camera, identified himself as Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian citizen.
The suspect who has been charged had disseminated a manifesto outline espousing his violent right-wing ideology. The 74-page document called for the murder of Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, and German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, described the man as an “extremist, right-wing, violent” terrorist.
New Zealand’s police commissioner Mike Bush said the man was not know to either New Zealand or Australian security services.
The assault saw at least 41 people killed in the city’s Al Noor mosque. The footage of the attack filmed by the gunman, who appeared to be wielding automatic assault rifles and a shotgun, was widely shared on social media.
A second attack was carried out soon afterwards at Linwood mosque, located in a suburb four miles away.
Survivor Farid Ahmed, who was inside Al Noor mosque at the time of the attack, said he did not know whether his wife was alive.
He told broadcaster TVNZ: “I saw from the hallway – to the room I was in – a guy was trying to come in that room and he was shot from the back and he was dead there. I saw on the floor the bullet shells, so many hundreds.”
Another eyewitness, Len Peneha, ran into the Al Noor mosque after the shooting.
He said: “I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque and people inside the mosque.
“I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous. I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly. I just don’t understand it.”
The country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said it was “clear” the incident was a “terrorist attack”. She said: “What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand.
“Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities. New Zealand is their home – they are us.”
Police in Zealand have urged Muslims not to attend mosques. Air New Zealand cancelled several flights going in and out of Christchurch after stating it could not properly screen customers and baggage.
Several of those killed or wounded in the rampage were identified as being from the Middle East or South Asia. Bangladesh’s honorary consul in Auckland, Shafiqur Rahman Bhuiyan, said “so far” three Bangladeshis were among those killed. “One leg of an injured needed to be amputated while another suffered bullet injuries in his chest,” he said. Two Jordanians were among those killed. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said four Pakistanis were wounded and five other citizens were missing. Others were from Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia.
Closer to home, Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr from Police Scotland said the force was “monitoring events closely” and was stepping up “reassurance patrols” around mosques. But he emphasised “there is no intelligence to suggest there is any specific threat to Scotland”.
Police forces across the UK took a similar approach. Home secretary Sajid Javid will hold talks with anti-terrorism chiefs and security officials to discuss possible further measures to protect mosques.
Ms Sturgeon, who visited Glasgow Central Mosque yesterday, expressed her solidarity with the Muslim community of New Zealand.
She said: “This is beyond awful. Innocent people being murdered as they worship is horrific and heartbreaking. My thoughts and solidarity are with New Zealand’s Muslim community and all of its people on this dark day.”
Ms Sturgeon said Muslims were “a valued part of Scotland’s diverse, multicultural society”, adding: “It is terrorists who commit acts such as this who offend our values as a society. We must stand against Islamophobia and all hate.”
Prime Minister Theresa May said the targeting of Muslins at their place of worship was “despicable,” and the UK stands ready to support New Zealand however it can. She said: “As New Zealand has stood by us, so we stand shoulder to shoulder with them.”
Scottish Labour MSP Anas Sarwar said: “This was a devastating and despicable attack. As millions of Muslims attend Friday prayers across the world, our thoughts are with all the victims, their families and friends, and all those hurting. Prejudice is on the rise across the world, creating a toxic ‘us versus them’ environment that sows the seeds of hate.”