New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush has now confirmed that 49 people had been killed.
He said that 41 people died after the first attack at the Masjid Al Noor mosque and seven others died after the second mosque attack on Linwood Ave. Another died in hospital.
He said that a man has been charged with murder and will appear in a Christchurch court tomorrow.
“Three other people were apprehended. We believe one of those persons who was armed and was at the scene may have had nothing to do with this incident,” he said.
“The two other people that have been apprehended, again in possession of firearms in the general environment, we are working through to understand what their involvement is.”
Bush also said that no government agency had any information about those in custody, and he had been in contact with Australian police.
“What I want to tell you is that no agency had any information about these people, and I can also tell you that I’ve been in contact with my Australian colleagues - they have no information on them at all either,” he said.
He would not confirm whether or not the same man was responsible for both mosque shootings, saying it was inappropriate to do so now a person had been charged.
Police took three men and a woman into custody after the gunman shot at worshippers with his semi-automatic weapon as they gathered for Friday prayers.
The gunman has been confirmed to be Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, who wrote a 73-page manifesto declaring his evil intentions.
NSW counter-terrorism police are investigating the Grafton man’s background after he was identifed as the shooter.
A resident in Grafton told The Courier-Mail Tarrant previously lived next door with his parents.
“His father passed away many years ago with cancer,” she said.
“Brenton has not been there for 10 years.
“He was a happy normal boy like every other kid in the street.”
Property records show the house is still owned by his family.
The woman said the family had moved from the house years ago.
Tarrant live-streamed the moment he opened fire at the Masjid Al Noor mosque.
The 17-minute video on Facebook live was left up for hours by the social media giant and was shared by users before it was taken down.
“We are dealing with a very serious and tragic series of events in the Christchurch-Canterbury area,” police chief Mike Bush said.
“They involve an active shooter. They involve multiple fatalities.”
“The multiple fatalities are, as far as we know, at two locations. A mosque at Deans Ave and another mosque at Linwood Ave, Christchurch.”
Bush said there were “a number of IEDs [improvised explosive device] attached to cars that police stopped.”
The bombs have been disarmed.
“We are not aware of other people, but we cannot assume there are not others at large,” he said.
“We’re not assuming this is contained to Christchurch,” he said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there was no doubt that the shootings “were an act of terror”.
“We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism ... we were chosen for the fact that we are none of these things... You may have chosen us, but we are utterly reject and condemn you,” she said.
The Prime Minister refused to be drawn on the citizenship of the other people arrested.
New Zealand security analyst Paul Buchanan told Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint program he was not surprised four people were in custody, but the alleged main perpetrator of the shootings had previously said he was working with 10 people.
“There was clear tactical planning involved,” Buchanan said.
Police are treating the incident as ongoing and Christchurch residents are being strongly urged to stay indoors and keep safe.
In a statement they said they are working with a number of agencies and are receiving assistance from the NZ Defence Force.
“We have asked all mosques nationally to shut their doors, and advise that people refrain from visiting these premises until further notice,” the statement read.
HOW THE ATTACK UNFOLDED
Witnesses said the gunman first went into the mosque about 1.40pm on Friday local time (11.40am AEDT).
The Bangladesh cricket team were reportedly among the 200 worshippers present but they managed to escape.
But small children are said to be among the dead, and bodies have been reported laying on the ground outside. Christchurch Hospital was also put into lock down.
The body of a woman on a footpath was also seen outside the mosque. Witnesses also reported seeing the body of a child nearby.
Witnesses said the gunman was inside the mosque for six minutes before returning to his car to retrieve more ammunition. He then opened fire again.
“I saw people drop dead in front of me. I was crawling to get away,” a witness named Nour told the New Zealand Herald.
“It was hitting the walls,” he said.
Nour crawled across the floor of the mosque to a window that had been broken by others as they fled and jumped trough it.
He jumped over a neighbouring wall. He ran around the block and he could still hear shooting.
Mohan Ibrahim described to the Herald running for his life to escape the gunman. He was one of 200 people in Christchurch’s Masjid Al Noor mosque when he heard shots being fired.
The shooter was stopped by New Zealand Police on Strickland Street in Christchurch.
A bomb was located inside his beige Subaru that was rammed by a police car, about 3km from the Al Noor Mosque where the first shooting took place,” the Guardian reported.
A police officer told a news reporter “you’re not safe here, there’s a bomb in that car.”
New Zealanders are reeling after the attack sent shockwaves throughout the country.
“We have now been affected by the virus of terrorism,” Mr Buchanan, a former intelligence and defence policy analyst and consultant to US government security agencies told 1 NEWSNZ.
“There are a whole bunch of white supremacists groups. We’re talking maybe a dozen groups of this sort mainly concentrated in the South Island.”
“It’s very possible this individual is still on the loose. There could well be some support network that’s actively trying to hide him.”
AUSSIE GUNMAN’S MANIFESTO EMERGES
The gunman’s manifesto contains “white supremacist” propaganda. Mr Buchanan told 1NEWSNZ he had seen the manifesto, and the shooting is “clearly the case of a white supremacist.”
In the 73-page document, he said he had planned the attack for two years and had a location lined up three months before the attack today.
He goes on to describe himself as an “eco-fascist”.
“I was a communist, then an anarchist and finally a libertarian before becoming an eco-fascist,” he wrote.
He claims to have had brief contact with Anders Breivik, who was a far-right terrorist who killed 69 members of a youth league summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utoya in 2011. He killed a further eight through a car bomb in Oslo.
He was a member of anti-immigration, far-right groups and claimed to be a member of a new order of Christian Knight Templars.
The gunman also wrote of how he supported US President Donald Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose,” but not as a policymaker.
He goes on to reference Candace Owens: “The person who has influenced me above all is Candace Owens”. Owens is an outspoken US pro-Trump activist known for her criticism of Black Lives Matter and of the Democratic Party.
In a chilling post on a social media forum posted last night, the ring leader — believed to be an Australian — stated: “I will carry out and attack against the invaders and even live stream the attack via Facebook.”
His display profile photo on the extremist forum featured a cartoon man wearing a wide-brimmed Dundee-style hat, clutching a VB beer captioned, “hold still while I glass you.”
In his post before the attack, the man posted: “If I don’t survive the attack, goodbye, godbless, and see you all in Valhalla!”
In Norse mythology, Valhalla is a “majestic, enormous hall located in Asgard, ruled over by the god Odin”.
SHOCKING LIVE STREAM
The gunman live-streamed the moment he opened fire inside the mosque, with those having seen the footage saying they saw at least 20 people fall.
“I’m lost for words at the extreme violence I’ve just seen,” one commentator said.
“People are just piled into corners and he just sprays them all. Praying for them.”
“There’s massive casualties at the mosque shooting ... I’ve just watched the video. He shoots well over 20 people, it’s absolutely awful.”
The footage shows a man driving up to a mosque playing loud music, before entering and shooting down multiple people in the prayer room.
He then calmly walks back to his car and drives off, explaining his actions.
However, other witnesses claimed to have seen “multiple gunmen”.
LEADERS REACT TO TERROR ATTACK
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this was one of NZ’s “darkest days”.
“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,” Ms Ardern said.
“The person who has perpetuated 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, which it is clear this act was.
“For now, my thoughts, and I’m sure the thoughts of all New Zealanders, are with those who have been affected, and also with their families. My thoughts also to those in Christchurch, who are still dealing with an unfolding situation.”
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was horrified by the reports.
“The situation is still unfolding but our thoughts and prayers are with our Kiwi cousins,” he said.
Labor Leader Bill Shorten wrote on Twitter: “Australia and New Zealand are family and we grieve with our brothers and sisters today. We send our love and condolences, our sorrow and solidarity in this terrible time of fear and pain and grief.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Australians had “no greater friends in the world than New Zealanders”.
“We are thinking of them all at this time as this awful situation unfolds.”
State Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said the scenes coming out of Christchurch were “simply horrible”.
“These abhorrent and appalling attacks are to be condemned in the strongest possible way,” she said.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of New Zealand at this tragic hour.”
CHRISTCHURCH IN LOCKDOWN
A massive police response was put into action and armed police were deployed on Deans Ave near Hagley Park. Armed police also responded to the incident in Linwood.
Schools and nearby businesses were put on lockdown, although this was later lifted.
The shooting comes on the same day as Christchurch school students were due to take part in a climate change rally. The event was planned for 1pm at Cathedral Square, a little over 2.5km from the site of the shooting.
The Bangladesh cricket team was at the mosque for Friday prayer when the shooting started, with the team captain Tweeting that they had survived.
The team is in Christchurch to play New Zealand in the third cricket test starting tomorrow. It has now been cancelled.
Coach Mario Villavarayen said: “The players are shaken up but fine. I spoke to one of them shortly after [the incident]. They didn’t see anything but heard gunshots. They were at the ground [Hagley Oval] and just started running.
“The coaching staff were all at the hotel. The players just started running when they heard the shots. I don’t know how many [shots] there were. This happened at about 1.45pm.”
Player Tamim Iqbal tweeted that it was a “frightening experience” and that there were “active shooters”.
The majority of Muslims living in New Zealand are Sunnis but there are also a large number of Shias who live there. They are mainly concentrated to Auckland but they are a minority compared to the country’s 4.7 million population.
The latest census data states there were 46,149 Muslims living in the country as at 2013. This was 28 per cent higher than in 2006 when there were 36,072 people identifying as Muslim.
Ahmad Al-Mahmoud, 37, described the shooter as white-skinned, blond, quite short and wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest. He and others broke a window in a door to escape from the mosque. Prayers started at 1.30pm and the gunman came in about 10 minutes later, when everyone was on their knees praying, he said.
The gunman let off dozens, if not hundreds of rounds, he said.
Another witness said the man was wearing a helmet.
“He had a big gun and a lot of bullets and he came through and started shooting like everyone in the mosque, like everywhere, and they have to smash the door and the glass from the window and from the small door to try and get out.”
One eyewitness told 1 NEWS: “My husband was driving past ...he said he took three people to the hospital, one was a little girl all had been shot.
“He wanted to take more he said there was like a dozen people just lying on the road.”
HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
Mass shootings are relatively unheard of in New Zealand.
In September 2014 Russell John Tully donned a balaclava and carried a shotgun as he stormed into the Ashburton WINZ office, not far from Christchurch, and killed two women, attempted to kill another and maim one more.
In 2001, William Dwane Bell killed three during a murderous spree at Panmure RSA in Auckland.
And in 1997 Stephen Lawrence Anderson went on a killing spree in the small North Island town of Raurimu. Six people were killed and many others were wounded as they tried to flee the cannabis-using schizophrenic.
NZ Customs figures revealed earlier this month showed more than 52,000 guns had been imported into the country last year. The alarming statistics, which prompted calls for the establishment of a national firearms register, didn’t include the $2 million worth of handguns or other military-style weapons brought into the country over the same period.
“They just keep pouring through the border and the problem is, as they pour through, we don’t know where the majority of them end up,” NZ Police Association president Chris Cahill said, according to Newstalk ZB.
“I know the majority of them end up in the hands of criminals because our members are finding them,” he said.
“But that’s the big question, why do we need so many? And if we are going to bring them in shouldn’t we know where they end up? And without a registry, we don’t know that.”