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‘One of New Zealand’s darkest days’: Death toll in mosque shootings rises to 49

‘One of New Zealand’s darkest days’: Death toll in mosque shootings rises to 49
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Forty-nine people are dead and more than 20 are seriously injured after a heavily armed gunman clad in military-style gear opened fire during prayers at a mosque in the center of Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday. A second mosque was also targeted in what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called a well-planned “terrorist attack” making for “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

Police had deactivated an improvised explosive device, and were working to disarm a second, that had been attached to a vehicle used by the suspects. Counterterrorism forces were activated across New Zealand and Australia, as New Zealand elevated its national security threat level to “high” for the first time.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said 41 people had been killed at Al Noor mosque on Deans Road, opposite a large downtown park. Seven more were fatally shot about three miles away at a mosque in Linwood, an inner suburb of Christchurch, and another person died at the hospital.

Ambulance staff remove a man from outside a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. Mark Baker/AP

Health officials said 48 patients, including both young children and adults, were being treated for gunshot wounds at Christchurch Hospital, while additional victims were seeking medical treatment elsewhere. Around 200 family members were at the hospital awaiting news about loved ones.

Portions of the ghastly attack at the downtown mosque were broadcast live on social media, highlighting a distinctly 21st-century dimension of mass gun violence – one sure to put more pressure on social media companies already under scrutiny about how they police their platforms.

Schools and public buildings, as well as the Christchurch Hospital, were on lockdown for hours on Friday afternoon as the police commissioner advised residents of Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, to stay off the streets.

Bush appealed to Muslims nationwide, asking them to stay away from mosques while the security risk remained grave.

“I want to ask anyone that was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand today not to go, to close your doors until you hear from us again,” he said at a news conference.

In a country of nearly 5 million, more than 46,000 residents are Muslim, according to data from the 2013 census, up 28 percent from 2006.

A body lies on the footpath outside a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. Mark Baker/AP

The prime minister said New Zealand had suffered “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” lamenting in particular that a target had been placed on the country’s migrant population. “Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand. They may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home.”

“They are us,” Ardern intoned.

The “extremist views” that she said had motivated the alleged attackers, “have absolutely no place in New Zealand, and, in fact, have no place in the world.”

She said the suspects had chosen New Zealand “because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values.” Addressing the suspects directly, she said, “You may have chosen us. But we utterly reject and condemn you.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on March 15, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
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