An Australian man in his 20s is suspected of killing at least 49 people Friday in “an extremist, right-wing” attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. An additional 20 or so people were seriously injured.
The man, who has not been identified by the authorities, live-streamed the deadly attacks on Facebook with a GoPro camera.
The video recorded the suspect driving to the Masjid Al Noor mosque in the center of the city before taking rifles out of his car and shooting indiscriminately.
“I was thinking, 'He must run out of bullets,'" one survivor told broadcaster TVNZ. “What I did was basically waiting and praying, 'God, please let this guy run out of bullets.'”
Australian media outlets have identified the man as Brenton Tarrant, 28, from Grafton, New South Wales.
The suspect was arrested by police shortly after he perpetrated another attack at a mosque in the suburb of Linwood. He has been charged with murder and will appear in court on Saturday.
Three other people — two men and a woman — have also been arrested, but police have not said how or if they are linked to the attack.
“This can only be described as a terrorist attack,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, calling it one of her country’s “darkest hours.”
“Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” she added. Condemning the ideology behind the attack, she said, "You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.”
Noting that those targeted by the attack were likely immigrants, she continued: "They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetrated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand. There is no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the suspect charged is an Australian citizen. "We stand here and condemn, absolutely, the attack that occurred today by an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist," he told a press conference.
"We are not just allies. We are not just partners. We are family," he said of New Zealand. "It is such a sad and devastating reminder of the evil that can be ever-present about us."
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said that two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were discovered attached to vehicles after the suspect was arrested, but they were subsequently defused.
Authorities in New Zealand said the suspect was not on their radar before the attack.
In an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online hours before the shooting, he claimed to be an “ordinary white man” who “decided to take a stand.” Experts have warned, however, that much of the manifesto is written in a way to attract attention on social media and sow further political division.
According to a 16-minute live stream posted by the shooter to his Facebook page and reviewed by VICE News, the suspect drove to the mosque in his car, targeting Friday prayergoers.
After pulling up outside, he took several rifles from the trunk before proceeding to walk in the front door.
The video shows the suspect initially using a shotgun before switching to a semi-automatic rifle and firing indiscriminately. One man tried to stop the attacker but then was shot.
The shooter then exits the mosque, apparently to check if the authorities were on their way.
He then reenters the mosque, moving from room to room checking for survivors, before firing several rounds into masses of dead bodies.
The shooter then returns to his car and sets off towards the Linwood Islamic Centre. He is seen inputting an address on his satellite navigation, before saying that “did not go as planned” and laughing to himself.
During the video, Tarrant says “subscribe to PewDiePie,” a reference to the world’s biggest YouTube star, Felix Kjellberg, who caused controversy when he performed anti-Semitic gestures on a video last year.
Kjellberg tweeted that he was “absolutely sickened having my name uttered by this person.”
The shooter then fires at pedestrians on the street while he is driving. The video then cuts out — presumably because Facebook cut the live stream.
Details of the attack at the Linwood mosque remain unclear, but Bush said there were “multiple fatalities” recorded at both mosques.
Who is the suspect?
According to Australian media reports, the suspect was an avid user of online platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as lesser-known websites, such as 8chan.
In the days leading up to the shooting, he posted pictures of guns that were used in the video during the attacks.
In his manifesto, which is filled with anti-Muslim, far-right and far-left political rhetoric, the suspect says he was born “to a working-class, low-income family … who decided to take a stand to ensure a future for my people.”
He worked as a personal trainer at Big River Gym in the city of Grafton. A co-worker confirmed to Australia’s ABC News that the man in the video was Brenton Tarrant.
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Gym manager Tracey Gray called the suspect “a very dedicated personal trainer” and said she was shocked by what has unfolded.
“I think something must have changed in him during the years he spent traveling overseas,” she said.
Is the video still online?
Facebook removed the video while the shooter was live-streaming the attack.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how many people watched it, but the social network told the BBC it was working to make sure copies of the video were not posted to other pages.
The video is, however, still accessible on other websites, including Reddit as well as fringe message board 8chan, where the suspect flagged the attack.
The suspect’s accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have all been suspended.
Cover image: An image grab from TV New Zealand taken on March 15, 2019 shows a victim arriving at a hospital following the mosque shooting in Christchurch. (TV NEW ZEALAND/AFP/Getty Images)