Death toll rises to 50 in New Zealand mosque attacks

CHRISTCHURCH: A woman places a card to mourn the victims of the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 16, 2019.
(Xinhua/Guo Lei/IANS)

Wellington (IANS): The death toll from the terror attack on two mosques in New Zealand’s Christchurch has risen to 50 as one more victim was found at one of the shooting scenes, the police said on Sunday.

Investigators found the victim while removing bodies from the Al Noor mosque where more than 40 people were killed as a gunman stormed the mosque and went on a shooting rampage on Friday, Police Commissioner Mike Bush told a press conference.

Meanwhile, the number of the injured people from the terror attacks stood at 50, and 36 of them were still being treated in Christchurch Hospital, with two remaining in intensive care unit and one child at a children’s hospital, Xinhua reported citing the police.

For the time being, 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant was charged with murder. The terror suspect appeared briefly in the Christchurch District Court on Saturday.

The charging document showed the maximum penalty will be life imprisonment. He will be in custody until April 5, according to the High Court in Christchurch.


Earlier IANS report


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Twenty-eight-year-old Brenton Tarrant, the main suspect in the Christchurch terror attack that claimed 49 lives, was charged with murder at a court here on Saturday as New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed to change the country’s gun laws.

Two Indians — Ancy Ali (25) from Thrissur in Kerala and Faraj Ahsan (31) in Hyderabad — are among the dead, reports said.

The right-wing extremist appeared before the Christchurch district court in a white prison jumpsuit, handcuffed and barefoot. Flanked by two police officers, he smirked when media photographed him during the hearing and was seen making a white supremacist sign with his hands.

The Australian stood silent during the brief hearing as he was charged with one count of murder. He was remanded in custody without plea and is due to appear in court on April 5.

Two other people were also being investigated over the attacks. These three detained people were not on any New Zealand or Australian watchlists and were not known to the police.

According to authorities, it remained unclear how many attackers were involved in the attack or if the same man attacked both mosques.

More than 48 people were injured in shootings at Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Avenue Masjid in the city on Friday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “The man is currently facing one count of murder but there will be further charges”. She visited a refugee and migrant centre in Christchurch as thousands of people across the country laid flowers at mosques and attended vigils.

Speaking at a news conference, the Prime Minister said the suspect’s car was full of weapons, suggesting “his intention to continue with his attack”.

He had obtained a gun licence in November 2017 that allowed him to buy the weapons used in the attack. He used five guns, including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns. “A lever-action firearm was also found,” she said, later adding that the guns appeared to have been modified.

“The mere fact… that this individual had acquired a gun licence and acquired weapons of that range, then obviously I think people will be seeking change, and I’m committed to that,” she said.

New Zealand’s Attorney-General David Parker said the government would look into banning semi-automatic weapons.

Ardern’s Chief Press Secretary Andrew Campbell said that the Prime Minister’s office had received an email with the “manifesto” from the shooter minutes before the attack.

Campbell said the email was sent to a “generic” email account that was maintained by staff, and was not seen by the Ardern. The shooter’s hate-filled 87-page manifesto contained anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim ideas and was also posted online before the attack.

According to the BBC, 49 victims were identified including Daoud Nabi, 71, originally from Afghanistan. He moved his family to New Zealand in the 1980s to escape the Soviet invasion. Nabi was a community leader in New Zealand and a known supporter of other migrant groups.

The dead included Pakistani-born Naeem Rashid and his son Talha. According to reports, three Bangladeshis, 4 Egyptians and a Syrian refugee were also among the victims.

In the aftermath of the carnage, New Zealanders rallied to offer support and sympathies for the victims, leaving flowers and messages at sites close to the Al Noor Mosque. Vigils were held at mosques and community centres worldwide.

Sydney’s Opera House was lit up in New Zealand colours. A silver fern, the national symbol was projected in the middle of the building. The Eiffel Tower in Paris also went dark. The spire of New York’s One World Trade Centre was lit in the colours of New Zealand’s flag.

Tarrant, who grew up in the Australian town of Grafton, had been living in the Dunedin, about 360 km south of Christchurch. The Australian police were investigating his connections around Grafton.

Meanwhile, more details about the shooting suspect’s travels throughout Europe emerged. Bulgarian Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov said that the shooter visited Bulgaria between November 9 and 15 of last year.

Tarrant arrived in Sofia on a flight from Dubai, rented a car and toured cities connected with Bulgarian history, Tsatsarov said. He added that the New Zealand attack suspect had a very good knowledge of the region’s history.

Tsatsarov also told journalists that after leaving Bulgaria, Tarrant went to Romania, traveling from there to Hungary by car.

Turkish officials also told CNN that the suspect had spent an extended period of time in Turkey.

In a chapter of Tarrant’s hate-filled manifesto he called for the assassination of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declaring “he must bleed his last”.