CHRISTCHURCH: A solemn New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday (Mar 15) the deadly mosque shootings in Christchurch had plunged the country into one of its "darkest days".
"Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence," Ardern said in an address to a shocked nation.
Forty people have been killed and dozens more injured in what Ardern called a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch.
"We believe that 40 people have lost their lives in this act of extreme violence," Ardern said.
"It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack."
The death toll was later increased to 49: as many as 41 people died at one mosque, seven at another and one person died in hospital.
Ardern said New Zealand has been placed on its highest security threat level. She said four people in police custody held extremist views, but had not been on any police watchlists.
Video footage widely circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and live-streamed online as the attack unfolded, showed him driving to one mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people inside.
"There are multiple scenes involved in this incident as well and police will be giving more details as they can as the situation unfolds," she added.
"Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here," Ardern said.
"They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.
"They should have been in a safe environment," she said.
"For now, my thoughts, and I'm sure the thoughts of all New Zealanders, are with those who have been affected, and also with their families."
"WE UTTERLY REJECT AND CONDEMN YOU": PM ARDERN
In her address to the nation, Ardern added: "We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism."
"We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things.
"Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.
"We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages. And amongst that diversity we share common values. And the one that we place currency on right now is our compassion and support for the community of those directly affected by this tragedy.
"And secondly, the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people who did this.
"You may have chosen us - we utterly reject and condemn you."
Ardern also urged residents to follow police's instructions to remain indoors.
"I acknowledge that that may mean that some families are separated ... (but) please remain in lockdown (as) we are potentially still dealing with an evolving situation."
The prime minister said she was going to return to the nation's capital city of Wellington where she would meet with government agencies.
"I intend to speak again publicly at that point."
Echoing her comments, leader of the opposition Simon Bridges said: "We stand with and support the New Zealand Islamic community.
"No one in this country should live in fear, no matter their race or religion, their politics or their beliefs."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was among the foreign leaders who expressed their concern.
"I'm horrified by the reports I'm following of the serious shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand," he said.
"The situation is still unfolding but our thoughts and prayers are with our Kiwi cousins."