Deadly terror attacks on two New Zealand mosques killed 49 people yesterday, triggering global condemnation and leaving the country struggling to come to terms with the carnage that has shattered its peaceful, safe image.
Gunfire broke out in two mosques in Christchurch during Friday prayers on what the country's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described as "one of New Zealand's darkest days".
"From what we know, it does appear to have been well-planned. Two explosive devices attached to suspects' vehicles have been found and disarmed," she said.
The government raised the security threat to its highest level and all mosques in the country were asked to close. Police said four people - three men and one woman - had been detained. One was later released. None of them was known to the authorities.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said one man in his late 20s is to be charged with murder. He will appear in court today.
The attackers targeted the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in central Christchurch, a city of nearly 400,000 people. Within minutes of the gunman opening fire at Al Noor Mosque at around 1.45pm local time (8.45am Singapore time), police secured the area, closing shops and businesses. Schools across the city were placed on lockdown as ambulances ferried the dead and injured to Christchurch Hospital.
HEINOUS ACT, SAYS SINGAPORE
Singapore strongly condemns this vicious and mindless act of terror. This heinous act is an attempt to spread fear and hatred. We must not allow such acts to divide our societies. Singapore stands in solidarity with New Zealand in the fight against terrorism.
PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, in a letter to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
A video purportedly showed the assault on the Al Noor Mosque, live-streamed by one of the attackers. He was named in media reports as 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant.
The live-streaming began as he drove to the mosque, parking his car in a nearby driveway. The beige station wagon contained a cache of weapons and ammunition in the front seat and boot, along with petrol canisters, reports said.
The video showed him going into the mosque twice and shooting at worshippers, including women and children, and then firing at others in the street.
Witnesses spoke of panic and horror as worshippers fled, while others were shot dead inside, bodies piled on top of one another. At least 20 people were also injured.
"I could hear screaming and crying. I saw some people drop dead, some people were running away," a man in a wheelchair who was at Al Noor Mosque told TVNZ.
The attack triggered widespread condemnation. Singapore President Halimah Yacob wrote to Dame Patsy Reddy, the Governor-General of New Zealand, to convey condolences. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a letter to Ms Ardern: "This heinous act is an attempt to spread fear and hatred. We must not allow such acts to divide our societies."
So far, no Singaporeans are known to have been injured, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Britain and many others voiced outrage, with the United States calling the attacks a "vicious act of hate".
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said six Indonesians were inside the Al Noor Mosque when the shootings occurred. Three were unaccounted for. Two were injured at the other mosque. Malaysia said two of its citizens were wounded in the attacks.
In Australia, flags flew at half-mast. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said one of the attackers was Australia-born, and the authorities were studying any links between the country and the attacks.