At least 49 killed as gunman livestreams New Zealand mosque ‘terrorist attacks’

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Police attempt to clear people from outside the mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand after the attack. (AP)
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Ambulance staff take a man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
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Police and ambulance staff help a wounded man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand,on March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
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Ambulance staff take a man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
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A man talks on his mobile phone across the road from a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Updated 18 March 2019
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At least 49 killed as gunman livestreams New Zealand mosque ‘terrorist attacks’

  • 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

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: At least 49 people, including children, were killed, and 50 others critically injured in mass shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch on Friday, which are being described as “terrorist attacks.”

“This is one of New Zealand's darkest days,” said Prime Minister Jacidna Ardern. "Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.” 

New Zealand police detained three men and a woman, with one of them being charged with murder. Police also defused explosive devices in a car.

One of four people detained in New Zealand after mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch is Australian, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“I can confirm that the individual who was taken into custody I have been advised is an Australian-born citizen,” he told reporters in Sydney.
“As family members with our New Zealand cousins today, we grieve, we are shocked, we are appalled, we are outraged, and we stand here and condemn absolutely the attack that occurred today by an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist.”

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.

The video, which was cut as it was deemed too graphic, went on to show the shooter gunning down worshippers through the halls of the mosque, before reaching the main prayer hall.

The shooter fired at groups of worshippers huddled on at the corners of the room, as one man attempted to stop the shooter but only succeeded in knocking the gunman down before being shot.

Security officials walk outside the Masjid al Noor mosque after a shooting incident in Christchurch on March 15, 2019. (AFP/Tessa Burrows)

New Zealand's threat level had been raised to “high” in response to the deadly terror attack.
“We have lifted our threat level from low to high,” Ardern said, adding that three people had been detained who were not on extremist watch lists.
“We have tightened our response from our agencies at the border, at the airports. In fact, at every level, we have a heightened response.”

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.

Mazhar Syad Ahmed who witnessed the whole tragedy told Arab News: “It was a normal day, I was praying Linwood mosque before we heard the gunshots, I was lucky enough to run to a small store room before the shooter got inside the mosque and started shooting people.”

“I witnessed him from inside the small room, he was wearing full body-armed and he started shooting to kill 10 people before someone jumped on him forcing the shooter to leave his gun and run away, it took almost 10min before the police arrived but the shooter has already escaped, and bodies were thrown all over the mosque. This was one of my worst days ever.”

Mazhar added that “It is a peaceful city, we never had any such incident, people are very friendly and kind toward the Muslims and all other religions.

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.

Read more: Muslim world reacts at New Zealand terrorist attacks on mosque

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.

This image taken from the alleged shooter's video, which was filmed Friday, March 15, 2019, shows him as he drives and he looks over to three guns on the passenger side of his vehicle in New Zealand. (AP)

“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.

Read more: Two Saudi citizens injured in New Zealand terrorist attacks

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.

Two Saudi citizens were among those injured in the terrorist attacks on Al Noor mosque in New Zealand’s Christchurch, according to an official statement from the Kingdom’s embassy in Wellington.

Read more: One Jordanian dead, two among those critically injured in New Zealand terrorist attacks

Palestinian sources have indicated that a number of Palestinians were amongst the victims of the New Zealand terrorist attacks. 

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry said that one Jordanian was killed and 7 wounded in the New Zealand terrorist attack.

A Jordanian barber identified as Wasseim Alsati and his daughter were among those injured in the attacks. 

The Bangladesh cricket team arrived in Christchurch on Friday to play New Zealand in a third cricket test that was due to start on Saturday but has now been cancelled. 

This image taken from the alleged shooter's video, which was filmed Friday, March 15, 2019, guns on the passenger side of his vehicle in New Zealand. (AP)

"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.

Bangladesh team narrowly avoid mosque shooting, test called off

The Bangladesh cricket team narrowly avoided being caught up in the shooting and forced the cancellation of a test match against hosts New Zealand.
The team were on a bus that was approaching the Al Noor mosque for Friday prayers on the eve of the third test at nearby Hagley Oval when the shooting began.
Mario Villavarayen, the team's strength and conditioning coach, said it had been a close call.
“They were on the bus, which was just pulling up to the mosque when the shooting begun,” he told Reuters via Twitter.
“They are at the ground, they are shaken but good.”
The team were pictured on social media walking back through Hagley Park to the cricket ground and a BCB spokesman later told Reuters the team were in lockdown at their hotel.
“All our players are now safe in their hotel which has been cordoned off,” the spokesman said. “We have advised the players not to step out.
“Importantly, our players are safe.”
New Zealand Cricket said they had chosen to cancel the test, which was the final match of the tour, after discussions with the Bangladesh board.
“I spoke to my counterpart in Bangladesh and we agree it's inappropriate to play cricket at this time,” chief executive David White told TVNZ.
“It's quite unbelievable really. We are shocked.”
White said he had spoken to the liaison officer with the Bangladesh team and the players were “shocked”.
Opening batsman Tamim Iqbal said on Twitter the experience had been “frightening”.
“Entire team got saved from active shooters!!! Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers,” he wrote.
Mushfiqur Rahim, who missed the first two tests through injury, said the team had been fortunate to avoid the shooting.
“We are extremely lucky,” Mushfiqur said. “...never want to see this things happen again....pray for us.”

(With AP, AFP, Reuters)


US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

Rescuers carry a man who was injured in an attack on a restaurant by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, October 1, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 56 min 58 sec ago
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US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

  • The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians

WASHINGTON: There is credible evidence that US military airstrikes in Somalia have killed or wounded nearly two dozen civilians, an international human rights group said Tuesday, charging that the Pentagon is not adequately investigating potential casualties.
US Africa Command officials immediately disputed the allegations laid out in a report by Amnesty International, and insisted that the military has investigated 18 cases of possible civilian casualties since 2017 and found that none were credible.
The seemingly contradictory information underscores the complexities of military operations against the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab group in Somalia, involving airstrikes by several allied nations in hostile, remote locations that are difficult to access safely.
The report came the same day that a Somali intelligence official and two local residents said a US drone strike on Monday killed civilians.
The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians. The official was not authorized to talk with the media and did so on condition of anonymity.
Residents concurred with the official’s assessment.
Mohamed Siyad, an elder in Lanta Buro, a village near the farming town of Afgoye, Somalia, told The Associated Press that four civilians including employees of a telecom company were killed.
“They were known to us — they had nothing to do with Al-Shabab,” he said by phone.
Another resident, Abdiaziz Hajji, said that the drone destroyed the vehicle. “Bodies were burnt beyond recognition,” he said. “They were innocent civilians killed by Americans for no reason. They always get away with such horrible mistakes.”
In a rare move, US Africa Command on Tuesday mentioned those possible casualties in a press release about the strike and said officials will look into the incident. But, more broadly, US defense officials said casualty allegations in Somalia are questionable because Al-Shabab militants make false claims or force local citizens to do the same.
Amnesty International, however, said it analyzed satellite imagery and other data, and interviewed 65 witnesses and survivors of five specific airstrikes detailed in the report. The report concludes that there is “credible evidence” that the US was responsible for four of the airstrikes, and that it’s plausible the US conducted the fifth strike. It said 14 civilians were killed and eight injured in the strikes.
“Amnesty International’s research points to a failure by the US and Somali governments to adequately investigate allegations of civilian casualties resulting from US operations in Somalia,” the report said, adding that the US doesn’t have a good process for survivors or victims’ families to self-report losses.
US Africa Command said it looked at the five strikes and concluded there were no civilian casualties. In the fifth case the command said there were no US strikes in that area on that day.
The group’s report and Defense Department officials also agreed that the strikes usually take place in hostile areas controlled by Al-Shabab militants. And those conditions, the report said, “prevented Amnesty International organization from conducting on-site investigations and severely limited the organization’s ability to freely gather testimonial and physical evidence.”
US defense officials told reporters that American troops were on the ground at strike locations in a very limited number of cases. Even in those instances, they said, US troops ordered strikes to protect local Somali forces they were accompanying, and there was little opportunity to investigate possible civilian casualties at that moment.
Still, the rights group concluded that the US military’s insistence that there have been zero civilian deaths is wrong.
“The civilian death toll we’ve uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US role in Somalia’s war is actually a smoke screen for impunity,” said Brian Castner, a senior adviser at Amnesty International.
US officials countered that they have access to information not readily available to nonmilitary organizations, including observations from people on the ground at the site and post-strike intelligence gathering from various electronic systems. Those systems can include overhead surveillance and data collected through cyber operations and other intercepted communications and electronic signals.
The defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
They said the US rigorously assesses targets in advance to make sure no civilians will be hurt or killed.
The officials noted that Kenya and Ethiopia also conduct airstrikes in the region, but provided no details. There are 500 to 600 US troops in Somalia at any time.
The pace of US airstrikes in Somalia has escalated during the Trump administration, from 47 in all of 2018 to 28 already this year. So far more than 230 militants have been killed in 2019, compared to 338 killed in all of 2018.
In March 2017, President Donald Trump approved greater authorities for military operations against Al-Shabab, allowing increased strikes in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali forces.
Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who heads Africa Command, told reporters in a recent interview that Al-Shabab controls about 25 percent of the country and the key effort is to help the government regain control of its land.
“The intention is to keep the pressure on that network,” he said.
He said there are three categories of strikes: ones to target senior Al-Shabab leaders, ones to take out training camps or involve Daesh militants in the north, and ones aimed at helping the government increase security and regain control of the country. He said the last group involves the most strikes.