Around 40 people were killed and three suspects were in custody after shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday.
“This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. “Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”
She later confirmed that 40 worshippers were dead. Dozens of others were injured.
Ardern described the incident as a terrorist attack, adding that it appeared to have been well-planned.
“These are people who I would describe as having extremist views, that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world,” she said.
Officers responded to reports of shots fired in central Christchurch around 1:40 p.m. Friday (8:40 p.m. Thursday ET), police said.
Ardern said 10 people were killed at one mosque, including three people outside the building, with 30 killed at another mosque.
At a news conference several hours after the shooting, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said that four people — three men and a woman — were in custody and that the situation was “moving quite quickly.” However, Ardern later said only three of them were “connected to this attack.”
“We are not aware of other people, but we cannot assume there are not others at large,” Bush said.
“A number of IEDs attached to vehicles” were found and disarmed, according to Bush.
All schools in Christchurch, a city of around 375,000 people, were placed on lockdown as the situation unfolded. Residents were told to stay indoors.
Police initially asked all mosques across the country to close to their doors.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that he was advised that one of those in custody is an Australian national, and he condemned the attack “by an extremist right-wing violent terrorist.”
Various social media posts on Twitter and the fringe message board 8chan were posted online by someone who appeared to have had prior knowledge of the shootings, including pictures of weapons and ammunition.
Authorities have not confirmed that the postings are connected to the shootings, but pictures and videos seen by NBC News as well as a manifesto posted shortly before the attack match known details of the shootings.
The manifesto includes anti-Muslim rhetoric, far-right and far-left political sentiment and references to radicalization via the internet.
Users on one of 8chan’s message boards, where the manifesto and terror threat were posted before the shooting, frequently share racist, homophobic and misogynistic memes and diatribes.
Len Peneha who lives near one of the mosques said he saw a man dressed in black enter the Masjid Al Noor mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror, the Associated Press reported.
Peneha told the AP that he went into the mosque to try and help and “saw dead people everywhere.”
Peneha said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway and fled.
A member of the mosque told local media at the scene that he was in a side room where the imam was speaking and it was peaceful and quiet when “suddenly, the shooting started.” He did not see the shooter, but saw people running.
Islamic faith requires praying five times a day, every day, Friday afternoon prayer services are highly revered because they are meant to be practiced as a community.
Prime Minister Ardern acknowledged that many of the people directly affected by Friday’s shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, and “they may even be refugees here.”
She added: “Christchurch was the home of these victims. For many this may not have been the place they were born. In fact for many, New Zealand was their choice.”
To the people who perpetrated the attack, Ardern said: “You may have chosen us but we utterly reject and condemn you.”
In the U.S., police departments including in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City, said they would be making extra passing calls to mosques or assessing security in those cities as a precaution.