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At least 49 dead in New Zealand after shootings at two mosques

Witnesses say attacker dressed in camouflage carrying an automatic rifle opened fire in Christchurch, as police charge man
Wounded person wheeled into hospital in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday (AFP)

At least 49 people were killed at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch after Friday afternoon prayers when a gunman opened fire on worshippers.

Some 48 people, including children, are being treated in Christchurch Hospital, with wounds ranging from minor to critical, health authorities told the Reuters news agency.

The gunman live-streamed footage of his attack on Facebook, filming it with a head-mounted camera.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the gunman, who had Australian citizenship, as an "extremist, right-wing violent terrorist".

New Zealand police commissioner Mike Bush said a man in his 20s had been charged with murder and will appear in court on Saturday. 

Bush said as many as 41 people died at one mosque, seven at another and one person died in hospital. He described the attack as a "very well-planned event".

'This is one of New Zealand's darkest days'

- Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

"This is one of New Zealand's darkest days," said Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's prime minister.

"Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.

"It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack," she said.

Three men and a woman have been arrested in connection with the attacks.

Bush said police had determined that one of the people detained was not involved in the incident, and officers were working to understand if the other two were connected.

The commissioner confirmed none of the people arrested were on watchlists.

Explosive devices defused

Witnesses told local media that a man dressed in a military-style camouflage outfit and carrying an automatic rifle had randomly opened fire on people at the Masjid Al Noor Mosque in Hagley Park.

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About 300 people were reported to have gathered there for prayers.

A second shooting took place at a mosque in the suburb of Linwood.

Police also defused "a number of IEDs (explosive devices) attached to vehicles," Bush said.

Authorities have advised all mosques in the city to shut down until further notice. 

“No one in the country must go to a mosque under any circumstances,” said Bush.

The commissioner said police were not actively looking for more suspects.

He said a number of firearms had been recovered from both shooting sites, and explosive devices were found in a car belonging to one of the suspects.

White supremacist manifesto

A video of the attacks as well as a manifesto promoting white supremacy allegedly written by one of the suspected shooters circulated on social media.

In the footage, the attacker, who identifies himself as Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old  Australian, appears to have live-streamed his actions as he shot victims in a mosque.

He described himself as an "ordinary white man" who was inspired by the mass killings carried out by Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik and wanted to avenge "thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders".

Police called on the public not to share the "extremely distressing" material online.

Facebook said it had removed the attacker's Facebook and Instagram accounts as well as any support voiced for the attacks.

Bangladesh cricket team narrowly avoid shooting

The Bangladesh cricket team was going to Friday prayers at the Masjid Al Noor Mosque when the shooting occurred, but all members were safe, a team coach told Reuters.

"They were on the bus, which was just pulling up to the mosque when the shooting began,” Mario Villavarayen, strength and conditioning coach of the Bangladesh cricket team, told Reuters in a message.

"They are shaken but good.”

Reports suggest some team members arrived from a news conference which had been delayed and that otherwise the team would likely have been inside the mosque when the shooting started.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said on Twitter that this was an "awfully sad day for New Zealand".

Ardern expressed sorrow for the victims.

"Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here," she said.

They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home."

'Completely shocked'

One witness at the Masjid Al Noor Mosque told the New Zealand Herald shortly after the shooting that he had friends still inside the mosque.

“I still have friends inside. I have been calling my friends but there are many I haven’t heard from. I am scared for my friends' lives,” said Mohan Ibrahim.

In terms of community, we are definitely in shock by what has happened

- Tahir Nawaz, International Muslim Association of New Zealand

Muslim communities across New Zealand expressed shock and sadness at the unfolding event.

"In terms of community, we are definitely in shock by what has happened as the news is coming in. We all know that New Zealand is a peaceful country, and we would never expect something like this. We are completely shocked," Tahir Nawaz, president of the International Muslim Association of New Zealand, told Middle East Eye.

However, he added, the event will help bring people together to combat hatred.

"The community is already supporting us, the Muslim community is helping each other and also the other communities, the other communities are supporting us as well," he said.

"They've already started sending flowers and asking about our needs such as food and such. We are really impressed with our community in terms of the way they are already supporting us."

Muslims account for slightly more than 1 percent of New Zealand's population, a 2013 census showed.