Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the events in Christchurch represented "an act of extraordinary and unprecedented violence" and acknowledged that many of those affected could be migrants and refugees. In addition to the dead, he said that more than 20 people were seriously injured.
"It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack," said Ardern.
Police arrested three men and a woman after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation with 5 million people.
The authorities did not elaborate who they detained. But a man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for his actions. He said he was a 28-year-old Australian.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the four people arrested was an Australian citizen.
Ardern at a press conference alluded to anti-immigrant sentiment as a possible reason, saying that while many people affected by the shootings may be migrants or refugees "they chose to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. he perpetuated this violence against us is not. "
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the police were not aware of any other suspects than the four who were detained but could not be certain.
"The attackers were stopped by local police personnel and there were some acts of absolute value," Bush said. "I am extremely proud of our police staff, of the way they responded to this, but we do not assume that the danger has disappeared."
Bush said defense forces defused a number of improvised explosive devices attached to vehicles stopped after the attacks.
He said that anyone thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand on Friday should stay put.
A police presence remains in many scenes in Christchurch.
The most deadly attack occurred at the Masjid Al Noor mosque, in central Christchurch, around 1:45 in the afternoon. Arden said 30 people were killed there.
Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black entering the mosque and then hearing dozens of blows, followed by people fleeing in terror from the mosque.
Peneha, who lives near the mosque, said the bandit escaped from the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semiautomatic weapon in his driveway, and fled.
Peneha said he went to the mosque to try to help.
"I saw dead people everywhere: there were three in the corridor, on the door that led to the mosque and people inside the mosque," he said. "It's incredible, nutty, I don't understand how anyone can do this to these people, to anyone. It's ridiculous."
He said he helped about five people recover from his home. He said one was slightly injured.
"I lived next to this mosque for about five years and the people are fantastic, they are very friendly," he said. "I simply don't understand."
He said the gunman was white and wore a helmet with a sort of device on it, giving him a military look.
A video apparently animated by the shooter shows the attack horribly. The gunslinger spends more than two minutes inside the mosque, continuously and repeatedly spraying the terrified faithful, sometimes shooting at the people he has already killed.
Then he walks out into the street, where he shoots people on the sidewalk. The screams of children can be heard in the distance as he returns to his car to take another rifle.
The gunman then returns to the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground. After coming back out and shooting a woman, he returned to his car, where the song "Fire" by the British rock band "The Crazy World of Arthur Brown" can be heard from the speakers. The singer says "I'm the god of hell!" and the bandit goes away. The video stops.
There was a second shot at the Linwood Masjid Mosque that Ardern said killed 10 people.
Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald that he had heard of five gunshots and that a Friday-goer fired back with a rifle or rifle.
Nichols said he saw two injured men being taken out of stretchers past his car shop and that both people seemed alive.
The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting said he came to New Zealand just to plan and train for the attack. He said he was not a member of any organization, but he donated and interacted with many nationalist groups, although he acted alone and no group ordered the attack.
He said the mosques of Christchurch and Linwood would be the targets, as would a third mosque in the city of Ashburton if he could make it.
He said he chose New Zealand because of his position, to show that even the most remote parts of the world were not exempt from "mass immigration".
New Zealand is generally considered a welcoming country for immigrants and refugees. Last year, the prime minister announced that the country would increase its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 starting in 2020. Ardern, whose party promised to increase the recruitment of refugees, has nicknamed the expected increase "the right thing to do".
A cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh scheduled to begin on Saturday was canceled after the Bangladesh cricket team had a limited escape.
Reportedly, the team's players and technical staff members were on their bus, approaching the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Hagley Park when the shooting broke out.
Batsman Tamim Iqbal tweeted "the whole team was saved by active shooters." Terrifying experience and please keep us in your prayers ".
The mass shootings in New Zealand are extremely rare. The most lethal in modern history occurred in the town of Aramoana in 1990 when bandit David Gray shot and killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbor.
ABC OTV contributed to this report
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