At least 40 dead in New Zealand mosque shootings

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Forty people were killed and more than 20 seriously wounded in shootings at two mosques in New Zealand on Friday, in what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said was a terrorist attack.

The massacre by at least one gunman during Friday prayers in the city of Christchurch is the country's worst ever mass shooting and was condemned throughout Asia.

"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 revised to 49 as AP reported a man had been charged with murder.

Ardern said New Zealand had 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 posted online live as the attack unfolded, showed him driving to one mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people inside.

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Ambulance staff take a man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
A body lies on the footpath outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Ambulance staff take a man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.(AP Photo/Mark Baker)
A man reacts as he speaks on a mobile phone outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.(AP Photo/Mark Baker)
People wait outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Many people were killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday, a witness said. Police have not yet described the scale of the shooting but urged people in central Christchurch to stay indoors. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Police attempt to clear people from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Many people were killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday, a witness said. Police have not yet described the scale of the shooting but urged people in central Christchurch to stay indoors.(AP Photo/Mark Baker)
A man talks on his mobile phone across the road from a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. A witness says a number of people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch; police urge people to stay indoors. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Police attempt to move people away from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers on what the prime minister called "one of New Zealand's darkest days," as authorities detained four people and defused explosive devices in what appeared to be a carefully planned attack. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Police stand outside a mosque in Linwood, Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed during shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Police stand outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers, as New Zealand police warned people to stay indoors as they tried to determine if more than one gunman was involved. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
A police officer escorts a man away from a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers, as New Zealand police warned people to stay indoors as they tried to determine if more than one gunman was involved. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Police keep watch at a park across the road from a a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers, as New Zealand police warned people to stay indoors as they tried to determine if more than one gunman was involved. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 15: Members of the public react in front of the Masjd Al Noor Mosque as they fear for their relatives on March 15, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. 49 people have been confirmed dead and more than 20 are injured following attacks at two mosques in Christchurch. Four people are in custody following shootings at Al Noor mosque on Dean's Road and the Linwood Masjid in Christchurch. Mosques across New Zealand have been closed and police are urging people not to attend Friday prayers as a safety precaution. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 15: A floral tribute is seen on Linwood Avenue near the Linwood Masjid on March 15, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. 49 people have been confirmed dead and more than 20 are injured following attacks at two mosques in Christchurch. Four people are in custody following shootings at Al Noor mosque on Dean's Road and the Linwood Masjid in Christchurch. Mosques across New Zealand have been closed and police are urging people not to attend Friday prayers as a safety precaution. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 15: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on March 15, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. One person is in custody and police are searching for another gunmen following several shootings at mosques in Christchurch. Police have not confirmed the number of casualties or fatalities. All schools and businesses are in lock down as police continue to search for other gunmen. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 15: Police Commissioner Mike Bush speaks to media during a press conference at Royal Society Te Aparangi on March 15, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. One person is in custody and police are searching for another gunmen following several shootings at mosques in Christchurch. Police have not confirmed the number of casualties or fatalities. All schools and businesses are in lock down as police continue to search for other gunmen. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
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Worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, lay huddled on the floor of the mosque, the video showed. Reuters was unable to confirm the authenticity of the footage.

One 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. The man 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 the man, Ahmad Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.

Radio New Zealand quoted a witness inside the mosque saying he heard shots fired and at least four people were lying on the ground and "there was blood everywhere".

Ardern said 30 people were killed at the Al Noor mosque, the city's main mosque, and another 10 at a mosque in the suburb of Linwood.

"This is one of New Zealand's darkest days," she said.

New Zealand's Police Commissioner Mike Bush said four people - three men and a woman - had been taken into custody.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said one of the men in custody was Australian.

Police said IEDs, improvised explosive devices, were found with a vehicle they stopped.

The online video footage, which appeared to have been captured on a camera strapped to the gunman's head, showed red petrol canisters in the back of his car, along with weapons.

All mosques in New Zealand had been asked to shut their doors, police said.

The Bangladesh cricket team was arriving for Friday prayers when the shooting occurred but all members were safe, a team coach told Reuters.

Political and Islamic leaders across Asia expressed their disgust at the deadly shooting.

"Indonesia strongly condemns this shooting act, especially at a place of worship while a Friday prayer was ongoing," Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a statement.

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