A “right-wing extremist” armed with semi-automatic weapons made a carnage Friday in two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, killing 49 worshipers and wounding dozens of others.
Premier Jacinda Ardern has described one of the “darkest days” ever experienced by this country in the South Pacific, considered peaceful. Calling this attack “terrorist”, she stressed that he was also the deadliest against Muslims in a western country. The alleged assailant, a 28-year-old Australian, has been arrested and charged with murder.
The attack sparked a wave of condemnations around the world, from Pope Francis to Queen Elizabeth II to US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The attacker broadcast live on social networks the images of his attacks, where he is seen to pass from victim to victim, shooting at the wounded at close range as they try to flee.
He is scheduled to appear Saturday in the Christchurch District Court. Two other men are in custody, without anyone knowing what is being blamed on them.
Before taking action, the man, who introduces himself as a white man of the working class low income, published on Twitter a racist 74-page “manifesto” entitled “The great replacement”, in reference to a theory born in France and popular in far-right circles according to which “European peoples” would be “replaced” by non-European immigrant populations.
The document details two years of radicalization and preparations. He claims that the determining factors in his radicalization were the defeat in the French presidential election of 2017 of the right-wing leader Marine Le Pen and the death of the little Ebba Åkerlund at the age of 11 in the 2017 ram-ram attack in Stockholm.
The Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts where the video, photos and the manifest were posted were suspended.
“It is clear that we can only describe this as a terrorist attack,” said Jacinda Ardern. “As far as we know, (the attack) seems to have been well planned.”
Two homemade explosive devices were also discovered in a car and neutralized, police said.
In Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the gunman as an “extremist, right-wing and violent terrorist”.
– “Blood covered” –
The shooter’s two targets were the Masjid al Nour mosque in the city center, where 41 people perished according to the police, and a second in Linwood, in the suburbs, where seven people died. A 49th victim succumbed to the hospital. The dead would include women and children.
Fifty injured people were shot in hospital. According to the Prime Minister, about 20 are in serious condition.
A Palestinian on the scene said he saw a man being shot in the head.
“I heard three quick shots and after about ten seconds, it started again, it must have been an automatic weapon, no one could pull the trigger so quickly,” said the man to AFP under the cover of ‘anonymity. “Then people started running out, some were covered in blood.”
The images of the shooter are “extremely painful”, warned the police New Zealand. The authorities have warned Internet users that they could incur up to 10 years in prison in case of sharing. This video posted on Facebook Live, made with a camera apparently attached to the body of the shooter, shows a short-haired white man with short hair driving his car to Masjid al Nour mosque.
We then see him enter the building and shoot the faithful by passing from room to room.
In addition to the video, which the AFP has verified the authenticity but will not publish, photos related to the shooter have been posted on social networks showing semi-automatic weapons covered with the names of characters in military history, including Europeans who fought Ottoman forces in the 15th and 16th centuries.
This tragedy has caused a shock wave in New Zealand, a country of five million inhabitants of which only 1% is called Muslim. New Zealand, which prides itself on being a safe and welcoming country, counts only about 50 murders a year.
– Very rare mass murders –
The police, who cordoned off the city for a few hours, asked the faithful to avoid mosques “everywhere in New Zealand”. The alert level has been raised from “low” to “high”.
As a precaution, the army blew up two bags that seemed abandoned near a station in Auckland, the largest city in the country. The police also visited a property related to the attack and the neighborhood was evacuated.
A witness told the news website Stuff.co.nz that he was praying at the Masjid al Nour mosque when he heard shots. While running away, he saw his wife dead in front of the religious building.
Another man said he saw children being shot. “There were bodies everywhere”.
A witness told Radio New Zealand that he heard gunshots and saw four people lying on the ground, “with blood everywhere”.
The Bangladeshi cricket team, an extremely popular sport in this country, went to one of the mosques at the time of the attack, but none of the players who came to play a game in New Zealand were injured, according to a spokesperson.
“They are safe, but they are in shock,” he told AFP.
Mass killings are rare in New Zealand, which tightened its gun-carrying laws in 1992, two years after a man with psychiatric problems killed 13 people on the South Island.