New Zealand attacks kill 49

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New York Times

Forty-nine people were killed in shootings at two mosques in central Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, in a terrorist attack that appeared to have been carried out by a white nationalist extremist who posted a racist manifesto online and streamed live video of the attacks on Facebook.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the assault as “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” and promised changes in New Zealand’s gun laws.

Officials said a 28-year-old man had been charged with murder, and that two explosive devices were found attached to a vehicle they had stopped. The man’s name was not immediately released.

The attacker targeted the Al Noor Mosque in the center of the city and Linwood Mosque, about 3 miles away.

The country’s police commissioner, Mike Bush, said at a Friday evening news conference that 41 people had been killed at Al Noor Mosque and seven at Linwood Mosque, and that another victim had died at Christchurch Hospital.

David Meates, the chief executive of the Canterbury District Health Board, said 48 people, including young children, were treated at the hospital for injuries. He said the injuries included gunshot wounds and ranged from critical to minor. Bush said Saturday morning that two of the victims were in critical condition.

Police said Friday that three men and one woman had been taken into custody, but Bush lowered the total number to three on Saturday morning, indicating that someone had been released.

Bush said a 28-year-old man had been charged with murder and would appear in Christchurch court Saturday morning. A number of firearms were recovered from the scenes of the shootings, he said.

Ardern said none of those detained had been on security watch lists.

Bush had earlier urged people not to go to mosques anywhere in New Zealand on Friday. He also urged mosques nationally to “close your doors until you hear from us again.”

A 17-minute video posted to Facebook shows part of the attack.

The clip, which may have been taken from a helmet camera worn by the gunman, begins behind the wheel of a car. A man, whose face can occasionally be seen in the rearview mirror, drives through the streets of Christchurch before pulling up in front of Al Noor Mosque, beside the sprawling Hagley Park.

He approaches the mosque on foot, his weapon visible, and begins shooting at people at the entrance. What follows is a harrowing nearly two minutes of his firing on worshippers.

At one point the gunman exits the mosque and fires in both directions down the sidewalk before returning to his car for another gun — which, like the others, was inscribed with numbers, symbols or messages. When he re-enters the mosque, he shoots several bodies at close range.

After another few minutes, he returns to his vehicle and drives away.

“There wasn’t even time to aim, there was so many targets,” he says at one point, as the sirens of an emergency response vehicle blare in the background.

Before the shooting, someone appearing to be the gunman posted links to a white-nationalist manifesto on Twitter and 8chan, an online forum known for extremist right-wing discussions. The 8chan post included a link to what appeared to be the gunman’s Facebook page, where he said he would also broadcast live video of the attack.

The Twitter posts showed weapons covered in the names of past military generals and men who have recently carried out mass shootings.

In his manifesto, he identified himself as a 28-year-old man born in Australia and listed his white nationalist heroes.

Writing that he had purposely used guns to stir discord in the United States over the Second Amendment’s provision on the right to bear arms, he also declared himself a fascist. “For once, the person that will be called a fascist, is an actual fascist,” he wrote.

President Donald Trump, who was mentioned in the suspected assailant’s manifesto as a source of inspiration, rejected suggestions that white nationalism is a rising menace, although he suggested it might be a problem in New Zealand.

“I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems,” he told reporters in Washington in response to a question. “If you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s the case. I don’t know enough about it yet. But it’s certainly a terrible thing.”

Asked if he had seen the manifesto, Trump said: “I did not see it, but I think it’s a horrible event, it’s a horrible thing. I saw it early in the morning when I looked at what was happening, and we spoke, as you know, to the prime minister. I think it’s a horrible disgraceful thing, horrible act.”

Felix Kjellberg, a polarizing YouTube celebrity known as PewDiePie, distanced himself from the attacks after the man who filmed himself shooting victims at a mosque encouraged viewers to “subscribe to PewDiePie” in a video livestream.

“I feel absolutely sickened having my name uttered by this person,” Kjellberg, a Swede, said on Twitter.

Kjellberg has courted controversy by performing anti-Semitic gestures, which he calls satirical, in his videos. He has a following of 89 million subscribers.

Over the last 18 months, tech companies have promised stronger safeguards to ensure that violent content is not distributed through their sites. But those new safeguards were not enough to stop the posting of a video and manifesto believed related to Friday’s shooting.

A 17-minute video that included graphic footage apparently of the shooting could be found on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram more than an hour after being posted. While Facebook and Twitter took down pages thought to be linked to the gunman, the posted content was spread rapidly through other accounts.

In order to evade detection, people appeared to be cropping the video or posting the text of the manifesto as an image — techniques used to evade automated systems that find and delete content.

Social media companies have heavily invested in those systems, with Facebook reporting last year that more than 99 percent of terrorism content by the Islamic State and al-Qaida was found and removed through artificial intelligence.

A Facebook spokeswoman offered condolences to the victims and said the company was “removing any praise or support for the crime and the shooter or shooters as soon as we’re aware.”

YouTube said it had taken down thousands of videos related to the shooting, and asked users to help flag videos. A spokeswoman for Reddit said it was also trying to remove “any content containing links to the video stream or the manifesto.”

Still, the tech companies were sharply criticized by Sen. Cory Booker, a Democratic candidate for president, who said in New Hampshire on Friday that it was “unacceptable” for the companies to give “a platform to hate.”

Sen. Fraser Anning, a member of the conservative Katter’s Australian Party, has drawn condemnation at home and abroad for linking the attack to Muslim immigration.

“Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” he tweeted.

Rebukes quickly followed from the highest levels of government in Australia and abroad. “The remarks by Senator Fraser Anning blaming the murderous attacks by a violent, right-wing, extremist terrorist in New Zealand on immigration are disgusting,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Twitter. “Those views have no place in Australia, let alone the Australian Parliament.”

Sajid Javid, the British home secretary, said Anning had fanned “the flames of violence & extremism. Australians will be utterly ashamed of this racist man.”

Anning drew similar opprobrium last year for invoking a Nazi euphemism during a speech in Parliament, calling for a “final solution to the immigration problem.”

Ardern called Friday “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

“What has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” the prime minister said at a news conference in New Plymouth, describing the shooting as “an act that has absolutely no place in New Zealand.”

“Many of those affected may be migrants to New Zealand — they may even be refugees here,” Ardern said of the victims. “They are one of us. The person who has perpetrated these acts is not.”

Ibrar Sheikh, the secretary of the Al Mustafa Jamia Masjid in south Auckland, described the targeted mosques as “a United Nations” of ethnicities.

Queen Elizabeth II of Britain sent her condolences to New Zealand, which is a member of the Commonwealth. “At this tragic time, my thoughts and prayers are with all New Zealanders,” she said in a statement released Friday.

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