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Gunman kills 49 in New Zealand mosque attacks

* Three Bangladeshis among dead * BD cricketers safe, fly home today * Four arrested, shooter an Australian

March 16, 2019 00:00:00

Map showing the two spots of attack and the cricket ground (top), Masjid al Noor and the arrested terror suspect (bottom) — Reuters/Internet

A "right-wing extremist" armed with semi-automatic weapons rampaged through two mosques in the quiet New Zealand city of Christchurch during afternoon prayers Friday, killing 49 worshippers and wounding dozens more, report agencies.

The attack, thought to be the deadliest against Muslims in the West in modern times.

At least three Bangladeshis were among the dead, an official said on Friday.

Seven other Bangladeshis were in hospital with gunshot wounds, said Shafiqur Rahman Bhuiyan, Bangladesh's honorary consul in Auckland, citing local residents.

The Bangladesh national cricket team luckily escaped the attack.

A spokesman for the Bangladesh team told AFP that most members of the squad were on a bus that approached the mosque when shooting broke out.

A reporter traveling with the team said to the news service that "distraught" players "got inside a bus and laid down on the floor after the warning [of what was happening]."

"They are safe. But they are mentally shocked. We have asked the team to stay confined in the hotel," the spokesman said.

The cricketers are returning home today (Saturday), a latest report said.

The Bangladeshis who died in the attacks have been identified as Dr Abdus Samad, a professor of Lincoln University in New Zealand, his wife and another woman, Hosne Ara Farid.

Samad, a sexagenarian, was born in Mymensingh and a faculty member of Bangladesh Agriculture University, Bhuiyan said.

"They went to that mosque to attend Friday prayers. The families began to call them by phone as they didn't return home. Later, the families were informed that they have been hospitalised after being shot," Bhuiyan said.

The attack was immediately dubbed terrorism by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, as she guided a shocked nation on one of its "darkest days."

The Australian gunman published a racist manifesto on Twitter before livestreaming his rampage. In the "manifesto" he denounced immigrants, calling them "invaders". The manifesto also featured conspiracy theories about Europeans being displaced, and details of two years of preparation and radicalisation leading up to the shootings.

Facebook said Friday it had "quickly" removed the live video from the suspected gunman.

New Zealand was placed on its highest security threat level, Ardern said, adding that four people taken into custody held extremist views but had not been on any police watchlist.

Following the attacks, the Bangladesh High Commission in Canberra remained "engaged" with the New Zealand authorities for the safety of members of Bangladesh diaspora and an early safe exit of the Bangladesh national cricket team from New Zealand.

In a statement, the High Commission said it directly and through the honorary consul of Bangladesh in Auckland disseminated messages to the Bangladeshis living in New Zealand in general and Christchurch in particular to remain calm, stay indoors, avoid places of congregation and obey the instructions of law enforcers.

Bhuiyan was set to arrive at Christchurch this (Saturday) morning to extend support to the Bangladeshi victims. He may be contacted on +642102465819.

Deputy High Commissioner Tareq Ahmed along with a consular officer of the High Commission is also expected at Christchurch today to provide all kinds of support. Ahmed may be contacted on +61450657046.

Additionally, all the diplomats at the Bangladesh High Commission in Canberra are available round the clock for information and assistance. Two additional numbers for emergency contact are +61424472544, +61450173035.

The New Zealand government said it could be illegal to share the video, which showed the gunman repeatedly shooting at worshippers from close range.

The Facebook Live video, taken with a camera that appeared to be mounted on the gunman's body, shows a clean-shaven, Caucasian man with short hair driving to the Masjid al Noor mosque in central Christchurch.

He enters the building and fires repeatedly at worshippers as he moves from room to room.

AFP determined the video was genuine through a digital investigation that included matching screenshots of the mosque taken from the gunman's footage with images available online showing the same areas.

Speaking in Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the gunman as "an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist".

His two targets were the Masjid al Noor mosque and a second, smaller mosque in the suburb of Linwood.

The mother of a Swedish girl killed in a 2017 jihadist attack expressed her horror at Friday's New Zealand mosque gun rampage, committed by the man who claimed to want to avenge the child's death.

The gunman said in a manifesto on Twitter that he wanted "to take revenge for Ebba Akerlund". He also wrote her name on the weapon he used.

The Swedish 11-year-old was the youngest of five victims killed in an April 2017 Stockholm truck attack, when a rejected Uzbek asylum seeker ploughed through pedestrians on a busy shopping street with a stolen beer lorry.

The Christchurch attack "goes against everything Ebba stood for", Jeanette Akerlund told Swedish public television SVT.

"She spread love and caring, not hate. I feel the pain of the families affected by this. I condemn any form of violence," she added.

"It's deeply tragic that Ebba's name is abused in the name of political propaganda," she told daily Aftonbladet.

Ebba's attacker, Rakhmat Akilov, was sentenced to life in prison for terrorism in June 2018.

However, the dead in Friday's attack were said to include women and children. Around 48 people were treated for gunshot wounds at Christchurch Hospital, including young children, with injuries ranging from critical to minor.

The survivors included 17 members of Bangladesh's cricket team, whose game against New Zealand on Saturday has been postponed, and a Palestinian man who fled for his life after seeing someone being shot in the head.

"I heard three quick shots, then after about 10 seconds it started again. It must have been an automatic -- no one could pull a trigger that quick," the man who did not wish to be named, told AFP.

"Then people started running out. Some were covered in blood," he said.

The attack has shocked New Zealanders, who are used to seeing around 50 murders a year in the entire country of 4.8 million and pride themselves on living in a secure and welcoming place.

In Auckland, 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) away, two unattended bags left near a railway station were detonated by military explosives experts.

Police also attended a property in Dunedin which they believe is linked to the attack and evacuated nearby residents.

The southeastern city was named in the suspect's manifesto as the original target for his attack.

Police warned Muslims all over the country not to visit mosques "anywhere in New Zealand" in the wake of the Christchurch attacks. Friday is Islam's holy day.

Christchurch city council offered a helpline for parents looking for kids attending a mass climate change rally near the shooting.

The attack has shocked the local Muslim population, many of whom had come to New Zealand as refugees.

One witness told stuff.co.nz he was praying when he heard shooting -- and then saw his wife lying dead on the footpath outside when he fled.

Another man said he saw children being shot.

"There were bodies all over," he said.

The attacks sparked horror and revulsion around the world.

US President Donald Trump condemned the "horrible massacre" in which "innocent people have so senselessly died".

A Jordanian man was killed in the attack, the country's foreign ministry said, the first and only victim identified so far.

People from around the world were in the mosque at the time of the assault.

Among them were six Indonesians -- three of whom were reported safe, the country's foreign minister Retno Marsudi said, adding they were searching for the others.

A Saudi Arabian man, two Malaysians, two Turks and at least five Jordanians were among those wounded.

India's high commissioner to New Zealand said nine people of Indian nationality or origin were missing.

Bangladesh team manager Khaled Mashud said the team saw "bloodied people coming out of the mosque... we kept our heads down in the bus in case of any firing.

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