(Bloomberg) -- New Zealand’s worst mass shooting in modern history appears to be the act of a lone gunman who attacked worshippers at two mosques out of racial hatred.
The death toll from Friday’s massacre in the South Island city of Christchurch has risen to 50 after another victim was located at one of the crime scenes, police said on Sunday. One person has been charged with murder while three other people apprehended with firearms are not believed to be involved, they said.
“At this point, only one person has been charged in relation to these attacks,” Commissioner Mike Bush told reporters. “I will not be saying anything conclusive until we are absolutely convinced as to how many people were involved.”
Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian man, appeared in the Christchurch District Court yesterday charged with one count of murder. He entered no plea and was remanded in custody until April 5. He is expected to face further charges, police said.
New Zealand is reeling from what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has described as a well-planned terrorist attack. Early Friday afternoon, a shooter walked into a packed central city mosque and opened fire, filming and live-streaming the act to social media as he killed 42 people. He then drove across the city to another mosque and continued the rampage, murdering seven more people. Another victim died in hospital.
Fifty people were injured and Christchurch hospital is still treating 36, of whom 12 are in a critical condition. A young child who was transferred to Auckland’s Starship hospital also remains critical.
Tarrant grew up in the small Australian city of Grafton and worked in a local gym as a personal trainer, Australia’s Nine News reported. He left his job in 2010 after the death of his father and traveled extensively. Turkey has confirmed he spent considerable time there, and there are reports he also visited Pakistan, North Korea and Eastern Europe.
Ardern said yesterday that Tarrant spent “sporadic periods of time” in New Zealand and most recently lived in the southern city of Dunedin. He attended a local gym and was a member of the Bruce Rifle Club in the south Otago town of Milton, New Zealand media outlet Stuff reported.
Police recovered two semi-automatic weapons, two shotguns and a lever-action firearm after the attacks. Tarrant had a category-A gun license which meant he could legally buy the weapons he used, although there are suggestions the guns were altered to make them more lethal, Ardern told reporters.
She indicated she will move quickly to tighten gun laws, saying a ban on semi-automatic weapons is one possibility that will be discussed by ministers this week.
Gun shops reported increased sales of firearms around the country on Saturday, including semi-automatics, ammunition and magazines, as people rushed to acquire them before the government acts, according to the Newsroom website.
Police said Tarrant was arrested as he fled in a car from the second mosque about 36 minutes after the first call of the attacks came in. He was a direct threat and officers “had to use some force” to effect the arrest, Bush said. Video footage shows armed police pinning the gunman to the ground after running his car off the road in a city street. Two home-made bombs were found in the vehicle.
Tarrant didn’t appear on any government security watch-list, nor did he have a criminal record in New Zealand. Ardern has asked officials to review whether his actions on social media should have brought him to the attention of intelligence agencies.
Tarrant posted a manifesto online before the attack, suggesting a racially-motivated act of terrorism. In a rambling document that’s dozens of pages long, he says he was inspired by Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who was responsible for the deaths of 77 people in 2011.
The events have shocked New Zealand, a peaceful nation of just under five million people in the South Pacific where gun violence is relatively rare. There has been an outpouring of grief and emotion around the country as it struggles to comprehend how something so violent could occur.
The death toll surpasses the 49 deaths during a prisoner of war camp riot in 1943, and is the worst mass-murder since before European settlement in the 1800s.
Christchurch, a city of about 390,000, is still recovering from a 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people and destroyed the central business district.
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