RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has called it her country's darkest day. A mass shooting at two mosques has left at least 49 people dead in one of the worst attacks in New Zealand's history. The prime minister said it can only be described as a terrorist attack.
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PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world.
MARTIN: The deadly shootings happened in the city of Christchurch. Police say four people have been taken into custody. Here's New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush.
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MIKE BUSH: The attackers were apprehended by local police staff. There's been some absolute acts of bravery. I'm hugely proud of our police staff the way they responded to this.
MARTIN: Police also found two explosive devices attached to vehicles that authorities were able to disarm. Keith Lynch is the deputy editor of the New Zealand news site called Stuff. He's with us now from Christchurch. Thanks so much for being with us, Keith. Could I start off by just asking if you can share any more specifics about the attack? I mean, this happened during Friday prayers at these mosques, right?
KEITH LYNCH: Yeah, about half 1, 2 o'clock on Friday. This man seemed to target the mosques specifically when they'd be - they're at their most busy. It's just an absolutely horrific thing that happened in Christchurch. We just really are coming to terms with what's happened...
LYNCH: ...In the city. And we've just got a little bit of breaking news coming through as well at the moment, where the police have evacuated a number of properties in Dunedin, which is a city about - which is a city south of Christchurch. We know the gunman lived in Dunedin for a time, and the police are currently raiding a property in - connected to the attacks at the moment.
MARTIN: So this is an ongoing situation. Do we know at this point how many gunmen were involved?
LYNCH: We don't know for certain. What we do know is that four people have been arrested. One man has been charged with murder and will appear in court tomorrow. Three others have been arrested, including one woman. We're not exactly clear what their involvement in the attacks was. We're still trying to get to the bottom of that.
MARTIN: I understand the man, though, who has been charged with murder, he did publish a white nationalist manifesto online?
LYNCH: Yeah. We understand his name is Brenton Tarrant. He's a 28-year-old Australian man. He published a manifesto, and he also published an absolutely horrific video online this afternoon. His manifesto was kind of drenched in hatred and the most vile sort of racism.
MARTIN: It is notable that this was a gun attack. And guns are not easily accessible in New Zealand, are they?
LYNCH: Yeah. Yeah, there are guns in New Zealand, but we've never seen an attack like this in New Zealand. We have had gun violence. There has been issues of gun violence. But for a mass shooting like this to happen in New Zealand, it's almost unthinkable. The man had access to assault rifles, and he gunned down dozens of people in cold blood using assault rifles. And for that to happen in New Zealand is absolutely unbelievable. It's just really hard to get your head around.
MARTIN: How's the broader Muslim community in New Zealand responding to this?
LYNCH: Yeah, I think there is a lot of fear. There's a lot of fear tonight, and there's a lot of concern. New Zealanders have been really defiant as well, though. It's been a really, really tough day, but all New Zealanders have tried to show solidarity with the Muslim community. And I think the prime minister summed it up really well when she spoke about the fact that the killer chose New Zealand, but we as a country will reject him.
MARTIN: How large is the Muslim community in New Zealand?
LYNCH: Yeah. There is a sizable Muslim population across New Zealand, in Auckland in particular. But there's also a Muslim community in Christchurch and in Wellington. We've spoken to a number of Muslim leaders this afternoon. We spoke to people who were at the scene at the time and described these absolutely horrific, unprecedented moments where they saw a gunman enter the mosque and gun down their friends or their colleagues.
MARTIN: We imagine in coming days memorial services will begin to take place too, I assume.
LYNCH: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, we suspect so. At the moment, there's hundreds of people at the hospitals as well still waiting to hear word of what's happened to their loved ones. So there is this great sense of uncertainty still around Christchurch, and hopefully they will get some answers over the coming days.
MARTIN: Keith Lynch is the deputy editor of the news site Stuff in Christchurch, New Zealand. Thank you so much for your time.
LYNCH: No problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.