CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: New Zealand police detained three men and a woman on Friday after mass shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.
Many people were belived to be killed and others injured when at least one gunman opened fire on worshippers.
New Zealand media reported that between nine and 27 people were killed, but the death toll could not be confirmed. Police said multiple fatalities had occurred at two mosques, but it was unclear how many attackers were involved.
Video footage widely circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, showed him driving to one mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people inside.
Worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, lay huddled on the floor of the mosque, the video showed.
"This is one of New Zealand's darkest days," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. "Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence."
New Zealand's Police Commissioner Mike Bush said "as far as we know" multiple fatalities occurred at two mosques and that say 3 men and 1 woman in custody over shootings at 2 mosques. Police said they were not sure if others were involved, and people should stay away from mosques.
The mosques were packed with worshippers gathering for Friday afternoon prayers at the Masjid Al Noor, and members of the Bangladesh cricket team were arriving when the shooter opened fire.
Local media reported at least nine people were dead and the South Island city was placed in lockdown as police hunted for an “active shooter.”
Witnesses told media that a man dressed in a military-style, camouflage outfit, and carrying an automatic rifle had started randomly shooting people in the Al Noor mosque.
The New Zealand Herald reported there was a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid in suburban Linwood.
A man who lives near the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch said many people were dead there. A witness to a second shooting told New Zealand media he saw two wounded people being transported by rescuers afterward.
Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the Masjid Al Noor mosque at about 1:45 p.m. and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.
Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in Peneha’s driveway, and fled.
Peneha said he then went into the mosque to try and help.
“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said. “It’s unbelievable nutty. I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”
He said he helped about five people recover in his home. He said one was slightly injured.
“I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly,” he said. “I just don’t understand it.”
He said the gunman was white and was wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.
Mark Nichols told the Herald he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun. Nichols said he saw two injured people being carried out on stretchers past his automotive shop and that both people appeared to be alive.
Radio New Zealand quoted a witness inside the mosque saying he heard shots fired and at least four people were lying on the ground and “there was blood everywhere.”
“Horrified to hear of Christchurch mosque shootings. There is never a justification for that sort of hatred,” said Amy Adams, a member of parliament from Christchurch.
The Bangladesh cricket team is in Christchurch to play New Zealand in a third cricket test starting on Saturday.
"They were on the bus, which was just pulling up to the mosque when the shooting begun,” Mario Villavarayen, strength and conditioning coach of the Bangladesh cricket team, told Reuters in a message. "They are shaken but good.”
Muslims account for just over 1 percent of New Zealand's population, a 2013 census showed.
"Many of those who would have been affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand," Ardern said.
"They may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home and it is their home ... they are us. The persons who has perpetuated this violence against us ... have no place in New Zealand."
New Zealand historically has had only a handful of mass shootings events.