Dozens killed in Christchurch mosque attack

By Ben Westcott, Jenni Marsh, Helen Regan, Meg Wagner, Brian Ries, Veronica Rocha, Aimee Lewis, Rob Picheta and Harmeet Kaur, CNN

Updated 10:34 PM ET, Sat March 16, 2019
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3:55 a.m. ET, March 15, 2019

New Zealand gun laws likely to face renewed scrutiny in light of Friday's attack

New Zealand is not used to mass shootings of the kind seen at the two mosques in Christchurch on Friday that killed at least 40 people and left 48 injured.

Until Friday, the biggest massacre in the country’s history happened 30 years ago, when a man named David Gray went on a shooting rampage, killing 13 people.

Following the attack, the nation’s gun laws -- which were first passed in 1983 -- came under scrutiny. The ensuing debate led to a 1993 amendment on the regulation of military-style semi-automatic firearms.

The country’s gun laws are still considered to be relatively relaxed compared to non-US nations -- gun owners do need a license but they aren’t required to register their guns. 

While authorities do not know exactly how many legally or illegally owned firearms are currently in circulation in New Zealand, estimates put the number at about 1.2 million, according to New Zealand Police. 

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, if a person wants to buy a gun, they must be over the age of 16 and pass a police background check. 

New Zealand police officers are not routinely armed, but recent figures suggest more officers are in favor of carrying guns. 

A 2017 survey from the New Zealand Police Associated showed that that 66% of its members support arming officers, according to TVNZ.

That figure has significantly increased from a decade ago when 48% of officers supported general arming in 2008.

New Zealand also has a low murder rate, with a total of 35 homicides in 2017 -- less than the number of people who died in Friday's double mosque attack.

4:40 a.m. ET, March 15, 2019

Melbourne to light up in New Zealand colors to honor Christchurch victims

Melbourne, one of Australia's largest cities, will light up in the colors of New Zealand on Friday night to remember those killed in the terrorist attacks in Christchurch.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the move on Friday, which will include some of the city's most recognizable landmarks including the town halls, the state library and Flinders Street Station.

"Victorians stand with Christchurch tonight, after this darkest of days. And we must all stand against the forces in our society that try and stir up animosity and anger. That try to divide us," Andrews said on his official Twitter.

Flags will also be flown at half mast on Saturday across the city, he said.

3:27 a.m. ET, March 15, 2019

Controlled detonation at Auckland not linked to Christchurch attacks

Auckland police have confirmed that a controlled detonation carried out in central Auckland was not linked to Friday's attack in Christchurch.

According to police Superintendent Karyn Malthus, authorities were notified of an incident where two bags were left unattended on the city's Galway Street shortly after 5pm.

"Cordons were put in place around the immediate area as a precaution and the Defense Force was notified. A short time ago Defense Force personnel carried out a controlled explosion of the bags as a precautionary measure and the matter has been resolved," said Malthus.

"Police can confirm the bags were not suspicious and contained scaffolding equipment," she added.

3:18 a.m. ET, March 15, 2019

What we know about the Christchurch terrorist attack

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced 40 people have been killed, and at least 20 injured, in Friday's attacks on two Christchurch mosques. Ardern described the incident as a terrorist attack.

Here's what we know so far:

  • Beginning at about 1.40 p.m. local time, armed gunmen attacked two mosques in Christchurch, killing dozens of people.
  • Police quickly locked down the city in response, including schools and government buildings. Within hours, police said four people were taken into custody -- three men and one woman.
  • In a social media post just before the attack, an account that is believed to belong to one of the attackers posted a link to an 87-page manifesto that was filled with anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim ideas and explanations for an attack.
  • According to Ardern, bombs were found attached to the attackers' cars. They have since been disarmed by New Zealand's armed forces.
  • One of the attacks appears to have been livestreamed on social media. The graphic video has since been removed and police are requesting that people refrain from sharing it.
  • Little is known about the attackers so far. At least one has been confirmed as an Australian citizen, while witnesses said one of the attackers was white and wearing a uniform. Ardern confirmed the attackers were not on security watch lists.
  • The lockdown on Christchurch schools has now been lifted and children are back with their parents.
  • Police are expected to speak again within an hour.

3:06 a.m. ET, March 15, 2019

Christchurch hospital treating 48 patients with gunshot wounds

Christchurch Hospital is treating 48 patients with gunshot wounds, ranging from young children to adults.

The injuries range from critical to minor, according to a statement from David Meates, Chief Executive of Canterbury District Health Board. Around 200 family members are on site waiting for news of loved ones.

2:47 a.m. ET, March 15, 2019

"Please let this guy run out of bullets"

A witness who did not want to be named told CNN that he smashed a window inside the mosque to escape. He said he was in the bathroom when multiple people began shooting.

"I turned to open the door to the toilet and they started firing and I said 'what was going on' and they just keep firing and firing," he said.

"I smash the window and the firing just keep going," he said. 

Another witness told CNN that he prayed that the gunman would "run out of bullets."

"I was thinking that he must run out bullets you know, so what I did was basically waiting and praying to God, oh God please let this guy run out of bullets," he said. He said a man told him to remain still when the gunman shot the man "straight in the chest."

2:45 a.m. ET, March 15, 2019

Ardern: Explosive devices found on attackers' cars

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the improvised explosive devices found at the scene of the attacks were attached to the gunmen's cars.

Police had earlier announced a number of explosives had been found following the attacks, which the New Zealand military had disarmed.

She wouldn't comment on whether or not the perpetrators had meant for it to be a suicide attack.

2:45 a.m. ET, March 15, 2019

Ardern: Attackers were not on security watch lists

Asked by reporters how the attack had occurred, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the four people under arrest had not been on any security watch lists prior to the attack.

When pressed on why the intelligence services hadn't been watching the attackers, Ardern said there were questions to be asked.

"I think we should be vigilant against the idea of extreme ideology and violent acts," she said.

2:45 a.m. ET, March 15, 2019

Ardern: "We utterly condemn and reject you"

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the attack appeared to be well planned and said the country had been chosen for its strong multicultural values.

"We were chosen (because) we represent diversity, kindness compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it and those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack," she said.

Ardern said while the attackers may have chosen New Zealand, but "we utterly condemn and reject you."