CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers on what the prime minister called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” as authorities detained four people and defused explosive devices in what appeared to be a carefully planned attack.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence” and acknowledged many of those affected may be migrants and refugees.
Police took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation of 5 million people.
Authorities have not elaborated on who they detained. But a man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for his actions.
Ardern at a news conference alluded to anti-immigrant sentiment as the possible motive, saying that while many people affected by the shootings may be migrants or refugees “they have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.”
Police Commissioner Mike Bush stopped short of calling the shootings a terrorist attack, although said “it doesn’t get any more serious in this country.” He said police were not aware of other suspects beyond the four who were detained but they couldn’t be certain.
“The attackers were apprehended by local police staff. There have been some absolute acts of bravery,” Bush said. “I’m hugely proud of our police staff, the way they responded to this. But let’s not presume the danger is gone.”
Bush said the defence force had defused a number of improvised explosive devices that were attached to vehicles stopped after the attacks.
He said anybody who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand on Friday should stay put.
Authorities have not yet said how many people were killed and wounded in the shootings. “It’s a very serious and grave situation,” Bush said.
The deadliest occurred at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch at about 1:45 p.m.
Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque 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 his 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.
Police said there was a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque.
Mark Nichols told the New Zealand 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.
The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting said he was 28-year-old white Australian who came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the attack. He said he was not a member of any organization, but had donated to and interacted with many nationalist groups, though he acted alone and no group ordered the attack.
He said the mosques in Christchurch and Linwood would be the targets, as would a third mosque in the town of Ashburton if he could make it there.
He said he chose New Zealand because of its location, to show that even the most remote parts of the world were not free of “mass immigration.”
New Zealand is generally considered to be a welcoming country for immigrants and refugees. Last year, the prime minister announced the country would boost its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 starting in 2020. Ardern, whose party campaigned on the promise of raising the intake of refugees, dubbed the planned increase “the right thing to do.”
A cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh scheduled to start Saturday was cancelled after the Bangladesh cricket team had a narrow escape.
Players and members of the team’s coaching staff were reportedly on their bus, approaching the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Hagley Park when the shooting broke out.
Batsman Tamim Iqbal tweeted “entire team got saved from active shooters. Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers.”
Mass shootings in New Zealand are exceedingly rare. The deadliest in modern history occurred in the small town of Aramoana in 1990, when gunman David Gray shot and killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbour.
Perry reported from Wellington.
Mark Baker And Nick Perry, The Associated Press
Leaders, moderators confirmed for 2019 English, French debates
OTTAWA — Five party leaders have confirmed they will participate in two major televised election debates in October, the media group producing the events announced Tuesday.
The Canadian Debate Production Partnership said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, Green party Leader Elizabeth May and the Bloc Quebecois’ Yves-Francois Blanchet will all attend the English debate Oct. 7 and the French one Oct. 10.
Both events are to be held at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. Election day is Oct. 21.
The Leaders’ Debates Commission, an independent body set up to organize the debates this year, sent invitations to the five confirmed leaders last week but did not offer a spot to Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada.
The PPC did not meet criteria established by the federal government for participation in the debates, the commission found. But the commission gave the party until Sept. 9 to provide further evidence that they have a chance at winning multiple seats in the fall, which could earn Bernier a spot at the events.
In its announcement Tuesday, the partnership also revealed the moderators for the English debate: CBC’s Rosemary Barton, Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star, Global’s Dawna Friesen, CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme and Althia Raj of HuffPost Canada.
Patrice Roy of Radio-Canada will moderate the French debate, along with journalists from French outlets Le Devoir, Le Soleil, La Presse and L’Actualite.
Also on Tuesday, Maclean’s magazine announced it will partner with Citytv to hold a debate Sept. 12 in Toronto. Maclean’s said leaders for the Tories, NDP and Greens have confirmed their participation so far.
“The Liberals have not yet confirmed Justin Trudeau’s participation but an invitation remains open and the debate will go forward regardless,” the magazine said in a post on its website.
Columnist Paul Wells will moderate the debate, which will focus on the economy, foreign policy, Indigenous issues, and energy and the environment.
The Sept. 12 date makes the Maclean’s event the first major debate in the election period, though it remains unclear precisely when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to officially fire the starting gun. The latest he can do so is Sept. 15.
Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press
Music composer from France killed by bear while working in northern Canada
YELLOWKNIFE — A Canadian composer living in France has been killed while working in the Northwest Territories.
French media reports say Julien Gauthier was attacked last week by a bear.
The RCMP did not name the victim but said the body of a man was found on Friday after a bear attack near Tulita along the Mackenzie River.
The Brittany Symphony Orchestra in northwest France posted a statement on Facebook announcing the death of its associate artist.
The symphony said Gauthier had been collecting sounds in the remote region and was travelling with a researcher he had met in the Antarctic.
The post said Gauthier wanted to use music to show his love and respect for nature.
“His work was faithful to his inquisitive mind, humble in front of the vast power and beauty of nature,” said the post written by Marc Feldman, a manager with the symphony.
“I am extremely happy to have known Julien. He brought me a sense of adventure, wonder and a rare intelligence. I am going to miss him terribly. We still had so much road to travel together.”
Gauthier’s web page says he also taught music at the Gennevilliers Conservatory and worked with the Paris Philharmonic.
The Canadian Press
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