World

'I can't believe my eyes': How the New Zealand mosque shootings unfolded

The massacre of worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, has been described by the country's police commissioner as an "unprecedented, abhorrent event" that's being investigated as a terrorist attack. Here is what we know so far about what happened.

WARNING | This story contains graphic details that some might find disturbing

Ambulance staff take a man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, following Friday's deadly mass shootings. (Mark Baker/Associated Press)

CBC News is carefully considering the use of images and video from this attack, and is only using this material sparingly in the interest of helping our readers understand what happened and why.

The massacre of worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, has been described by the country's police commissioner as an "unprecedented, abhorrent event" that's being investigated as a terrorist attack.

Here is what we know so far about what happened during the worst mass shooting in the country's history.

Key details:

  • 50 people shot dead in attacks at two mosques.
  • 50 people injured, including a four-year-old child in critical condition..
  • Brenton Terrant, 28, an Australian citizen and professed white supremacist, charged with murder. He was remanded in custody and is due back in court April 5.
  • Police said they think the three other people arrested after the shooting were not connected to the gunman. One was released, and the other two were charged with firearms offences, the New Zealand Herald reported.
  • The shootings took place at Al-Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre during Friday afternoon prayers.
  • Police recovered several guns from the mosques, and two explosive devices from a vehicle.
  • The New Zealand Red Cross has published a list of missing persons on its website with names from countries including: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has raised the national security threat level in New Zealand to its second highest level.
  • Ardern called it a terrorist attack and said it was "one of New Zealand's darkest days."

'I can't believe my eyes': witness

The first and most deadly of the shootings occurred at the Masjid Al-Noor, a mosque in central Christchurch, at around 1:40 p.m. local time Friday.

Mohan Ibn Ibrahim was among the large crowd gathering for afternoon prayers. In an interview with CBC News Network, he said the gunman opened fire from the main entrance.

Ibrahim, who was on the right side of mosque, said he heard a hard, fast sound that he initially thought was an electrical short-circuit.

A view of the Al-Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue in Christchurch, taken in 2014. (Martin Hunter/SNPA/Reuters)
 

When he realized it was gunfire, he ran out the side door and raced to the parking lot. Others did the same.

As he fled, the gunfire continued to ring out.

"It was happening for 10 to 15 minutes, continuous shooting," he said. 

An eyewitness of one of two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shootings says he escaped through the side door as the gunman opened fire. Mohan Ibrahim has lived in the country for five years, but says after the attack, he does not feel safe. 14:59

'The firing went on and on'

Another man who said he was at the Al-Noor Mosque told media the gunman was white, blond, and wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest. Ahmad Al-Mahmoud said the gunman burst into the mosque as worshippers were kneeling for prayers.

"He had a big gun ... he came and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere," said Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.

Video footage that appeared to have been captured by a camera strapped to the gunman's head showed him driving as music played in his vehicle. The footage was streamed live on Facebook as the attack took place and shared on platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Whatsapp and Instagram.

After parking, the gunman took a semi-automatic weapon from the trunk of his car and walked a short distance to the mosque, where he opened fire.

A man outside a mosque in Christchurch reacts to the shootings as he speaks on the phone. (Mark Baker/Associated Press)

Over several minutes, he repeatedly shot worshippers, leaving more than a dozen bodies in one room alone.

"I was just praying to God and hoping our God, please, let this guy stop," Mahmood Nazeer told TVNZ.

"The firing went on and on. One person with us had a bullet in her arm. When the firing stopped, I looked over the fence, there was one guy, changing his gun."

Returned to mosque after getting 2nd firearm

The video shows the gunman firing at people huddled inside several rooms in the mosque for about two minutes, then he walks outside and fires multiple times in the parking lot and again when he gets onto the street, aiming at people in the distance.

He then goes back to his car and gets another firearm from the trunk, dropping the first on the ground.

He walks past the mosque and fires several times down a road at the side of the building. On the video, he can be heard saying, "Looks like we won't get the bird today, boys." 

Members of the public who fear for their relatives speak with police officers outside Al Noor Mosque. (Kai Schwoerer/Getty)

Then he re-enters the mosque, past bodies on the ground in the entryway, and shoots again at people he had shot earlier, huddled and lying on top of each other at the sides and corners of the rooms inside.

One man, with blood still on his shirt, said in a television interview that he hid from the gunman under a bench and prayed he would run out of bullets.

The video shows the gunman leaving the mosque and firing at a woman in a black hijab who is lying at the side of the road crying for help. He then walks back to his car and drives off at high speed, intermittently firing from his car. 

A still image from a video the alleged gunman filmed and streamed live online as the attack was unfolding shows him retrieving weapons from the trunk of his car. (Twitter via Reuters)

Witness Len Peneha said he lives next door to the mosque and saw the gunman run outside. When the shooter was gone, Peneha went into the mosque to try to help the victims.

"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. "I don't understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It's ridiculous."

'They couldn't move, and they were shot'

After police arrived, Ibrahim and others who had escaped through the yard and climbed the wall started to make their way back to the main entrance, which had been barricaded by the officers, he said. 

Ibrahim said he saw a woman and young girl dead on the ground. Authorities say 42 people were killed at Masjid Al-Noor.

"Pray for us to be safe around here ... I can't believe my eyes, what I just saw."

During the second shooting at nearby Linwood, about five kilometres east, seven people were killed. One more person died later at Christchurch Hospital.

(CBC)

Syed Ahmed was in the front row as the imam started prayers. He told CBC's As it Happens that he heard the first gunshots ring out from outside the window to his right.

"I heard three or four shots, and people started falling down and everybody started to take cover," he said.

A police officer responds to the shooting at Linwood Mosque. (Social media video/Reuters)

Ahmed said a group of elderly worshippers sitting in chairs along a wall were the gunman's first targets in the mosque.

"I mean, they couldn't move, and they were shot."

According to what fellow worshippers later told him, Ahmed said someone in the mosque tried to overpower the gunman from behind, prompting him to drop his gun and run away.

Footage of roadside arrest 

Video of police arresting one of the suspects shows officers surrounding a vehicle that had been struck by a police cruiser.

The takedown occurred on the side of a road to the south and midway between the two mosques.

Watch as officers arrest suspect after shootings at two mosques in Christchurch:

Video of the suspected gunman's arrest shows officers surrounding a vehicle that had been struck by a police cruiser. 1:27

Police said the investigation extended 360 kilometres to the south, where homes in Dunedin were evacuated around a "location of interest." It was later reported that police had been searching the home of the alleged gunman, Brenton Terrant.

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press