Multiple people were killed in a shooting attack on the southern island of New Zealand on Friday when a gunman opened fire inside two mosques.
Witnesses said the attack occurred just before 1:40 p.m. local time as the worship leader gave the sermon.
“The Sheikh was giving the sermon on Friday prayers and it was 1:42 [p.m.] and the gun starts shooting and he just came in and he was shooting ad hoc,” eyewitness Ramzan Ali told The Associated Press.
“Actually I haven’t seen him because I just lie down under the bench thinking that if I get out, I’ll get shot,” he said. “I’m just keeping my fingers crossed so I could be alive.”
“I was the last guy to come out of the mosque after the shooting stopped and on the doors there were a lot of bodies,” he added.
The gunman, who was dressed in tactical gear, appeared to livestream video of the shooting on social media, according to New Zealand police, documenting his trip from his vehicle and into the worship center in central Christchurch, New Zealand, where he opened fire indiscriminately.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said there were “significant” fatalities reported, but he declined to offer a specific figure.
The shooter also opened fire in the surrounding area outside of the mosques. Police said they recovered improvised explosive devices attached to vehicles in the area, but they were rendered safe.
“A serious and evolving situation is occurring in Christchurch with an active shooter. Police are responding with its full capability to manage the situation, but the risk environment remains extremely high,” New Zealand Police tweeted.
“Police recommend that residents across Christchurch remain off the streets and indoors until further notice.”
Arden made reference to the nationalities of the victims, saying, “Many of those directly involved might be immigrants, refugees who chose to be here. They are us. The person who has done this, is not.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the shootings as having been perpetrated by an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist, that has taken the lives — stolen the lives — in a vicious, murderous attack that has claimed so many New Zealanders.”
A spokesperson for the Canterbury District Health Board said it activated its mass casualty plan, putting public locations in the area on lockdown.
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