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Suspected white supremacist charged with murder after New Zealand mosque shootings

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CHRISTCHURCH/WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Reuters) – Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after 49 people were killed and dozens wounded in mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques.

Tarrant, handcuffed and wearing a white prison suit, stood silently in the Christchurch District Court where he was remanded without a plea. He is due back in court on April 5 and police said he was likely to face further charges.

The attack, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labeled as terrorism, was the worst ever peacetime mass killing in New Zealand and the country had raised its security threat level to the highest.

Tarrant has been described as a suspected white supremacist, based on his social media activity.

Footage of the attack on one of the mosques was broadcast live on Facebook, and a “manifesto” denouncing immigrants as “invaders” was also posted online via links to related social media accounts.

The video showed a man driving to the Al Noor mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people with a semi-automatic rifle with high-capacity magazines. Worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, lay on the floor, the video showed.

At one stage the shooter returns to his car, changes weapons, re-enters the mosque and again begins shooting. The camera attached to his head recording the massacre follows the barrel of his weapon, like some macabre video game.

Forty-one people were killed at the Al Noor mosque.

One man who said he was at the Al Noor mosque told media the gunman burst in as worshippers were kneeling for prayers.

“He came and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere,” said Ahmad Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.

Police said the alleged shooter took seven minutes to travel to the second mosque in the suburb of Linwood, where seven people were killed. No images have emerged from the second mosque.

Tarrant was arrested in a car, which police said was carrying improvised explosive devices, 36 minutes after they were first called.

“The offender was mobile, there were two other firearms in the vehicle that the offender was in, and it absolutely was his intention to continue with his attack,” Ardern told reporters in Christchurch on Saturday.

The visiting Bangladesh cricket team was arriving for prayers at one of the mosques when the shooting started but all members were safe, a team coach told Reuters.

Two other people were in custody and police said they were seeking to understand whether they were involved in any way.

None of those arrested had a criminal history or were on watchlists in New Zealand or Australia.

SORROW, SYMPATHY

Twelve operating theaters worked through the night on the more than 40 people wounded, said hospital authorities. Thirty six people were still being treated on Saturday, of which 11 remained in intensive care. One victim died in hospital.

“The wounds from gunshots are often quite significant,” Christchurch Hospital’s Chief of Surgery Greg Robertson told reporters. “Many of the people require multiple trips to the theater to deal with the complex series of injuries they have.”

Funerals were planned on Saturday for some of the victims, several of whom were born overseas.

Dozens of people laid flowers at cordons near both mosques in Christchurch, which is still rebuilding after a devastating earthquake in 2011 that killed almost 200 people.

Wearing a black scarf over her head, Ardern hugged members of the Muslim community at a Christchurch refugee center on Saturday, saying she would ensure freedom on religion in New Zealand. “I convey the message of love and support on behalf of New Zealand to all of you,” she said.

The majority of victims were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia and Afghanistan. Muslims account for just over 1 percent of New Zealand’s population.

“I’m not sure how to deal with this. Forgiving is going to take time,” Omar Nabi, whose father Haji Daoud Nabi was gunned down, told reporters outside the Christchurch court. Nabi’s family left Kabul, Afghanistan, for New Zealand in the 1970s.

(Graphic: New Zealand shootings – tmsnrt.rs/2O3v80l)

Omar Nabi speaks to the media about losing his father Haji Daoud in the mosque attacks, at the district court in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

GUN LAW REFORMS

Ardern said Tarrant was a licensed gun owner who allegedly used five weapons, including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns, which had been modified.

“I can tell you one thing right now, our gun laws will change,” Ardern told reporters, saying a ban on semi-automatic weapons would be considered.

New Zealand has in the past tried to tighten firearm laws, but a strong gun lobby and culture of hunting has stymied such efforts. There are an estimated 1.5 million firearms in New Zealand, which has a population of only five million, but the country has had low levels of gun violence.

Tarrant lived in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, and was a member of the Bruce Rifle Club, according to media reports which quoted club members saying he often practiced shooting an AR-15, which is a lightweight semi-automatic rifle.

The AR-15 is a semi-automatic version of the United States military M16 rifle. The minimum legal age to own a gun in New Zealand is 16, or 18 for military-style semi-automatic weapons.

Police Association President Chris Cahill said the weapons used in the mosque shootings were banned in Australia after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 in which 35 people were gunned down.

The AR-15 was used at Port Arthur, as well as a number of high-profile mass shootings in the United States.

“There is no place in the upcoming debate for the radical gun lobby which has made its presence felt in previous attempts to make our country safer,” Cahill said in a statement.

“We have seen what happens in the United States when gun radicals are involved. Nothing. That is not good enough for New Zealand.”

WORLD CONDEMNATION

Leaders around the world expressed sorrow and disgust at the attacks, with some deploring the demonisation of Muslims.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who condemned the attack as a “horrible massacre”, was praised by the accused gunman in a manifesto posted online as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”.

Ardern said she had spoken to Trump, who had asked how he could help. “My message was sympathy and love for all Muslim communities,” she said she told him.

Political and Islamic leaders across Asia and the Middle East voiced concern over the targeting of Muslims.

Slideshow (25 Images)

“I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11,” Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan posted on social media. “1.3 billion Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror.”

(For a graphic on major mass shootings: tmsnrt.rs/2QrER0B)

Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook, John Mair and Swati Pandey in Sydney; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Thousands attend NZ vigil, rally to fight racism, remember Christchurch victims

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CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – Thousands gathered in New Zealand’s cities on Sunday to protest racism and remember the 50 Muslims killed by a gunman in Christchurch and as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a national remembrance service to be held later this week.

People attend a vigil for victims of the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

About 15,000 turned out for an evening vigil in Christchurch in a park near the Al Noor mosque, where a suspected white supremacist killed more than 40 of the victims. Several more people were killed at the nearby Linwood mosque.

Many non-Muslim women wore headscarves at the vigil, some made by members of Christchurch’s Muslim community, to show their support for those of Islamic faith as they had at similar events last week.

Ardern said on Sunday that a national remembrance service would be held on March 29 to honor the victims, most of whom were migrants or refugees.

“The service will be a chance to once again show that New Zealanders are compassionate, inclusive and diverse, and that we will protect those values,” Ardern said in a statement.

The prime minister has been praised for her leadership following the attack. She swiftly moved to denounce the incident as terrorism, toughen gun laws and express national solidarity with the victims and their families.

The vigil started with an Islamic prayer, followed by a reading of the names of the victims, which included students from the nearby Cashmere High School.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can,” Okirano Tilaia, one of the school’s pupils, told the crowd. “Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can.”

Earlier in the day more than 1,000 people marched in a rally against racism in central Auckland, carrying “Migrant lives matters” and “Refugees welcome here,” placards.

Muslims account for just over 1 percent of New Zealand’s 4.8-million population, a 2013 census showed, most of whom were born overseas.

As New Zealand continued to mourn and ask questions about how such an attack could have happened in the peaceful Pacific nation, the victims’ families spoke about their losses.

Shahadat Hossain, whose brother Mojammel Haque was killed in the attack, arrived in New Zealand on Saturday to bring his brother’s body back to Bangladesh.

“I can’t describe how I felt when I saw my brother’s lifeless body,” he told Reuters. “I was devastated.”

Farid Ahmed, who was at the Al Noor mosque when the shooting took place, escaped but his wife, Husna, was killed. On Sunday, he went door-to-door, thanking his neighbors for their support.

    “They came running… they were crying, they were in tears,” he said of his neighbors when they found out that Husna had died.

“That was a wonderful support and expression of love, and I am feeling that I should also take the opportunity to say to them that I also love them.”

Reporting by Jill Gralow Natasha Howitt, Charlotte Greenfield in Christchurch, Ruma Paul in Dhaka, James Redmayne and Tom Westbrook in Sydney; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Sam Holmes

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Almost 400 people winched from stricken cruise liner off Norway

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OSLO (Reuters) – Rescue services had airlifted 397 people to safety from a luxury cruise liner with engine trouble off the coast of Norway by Sunday morning and were preparing to tow the vessel to a nearby port.

The Viking Sky, with 1,373 passengers and crew on board, sent out a mayday signal on Saturday as it drifted towards land in the Norwegian Sea.

The ship was carrying 915 passengers, of whom “a large number” were from the United States and Britain, according to the rescue services.

Some 17 injured passengers had been taken to hospital, a local rescue coordinator told a news conference early on Sunday, while others suffered minor cuts and bruises.

One was taken to St. Olav’s Hospital in the town of Trondheim, which is central Norway’s most advanced medical facility. Others were taken to local hospitals in the region.

“Many have also been traumatized by the experience and need care when they arrive on shore,” the Norwegian Red Cross said in a statement.

The airlift had gone on through the night. The ship has been able to restart three of its four engines on Sunday morning but still needed assistance.

“The evacuation continues at the request of the vessel … they need tugboats to get to port,” rescue service spokesman Per Fjeld said, adding that the plan was to bring the Viking Sky to the town of Molde.

Rescue services have begun to attach lines to the ship from tugboats to begin towing it towards the port.

BROKEN WINDOWS

Stormy weather conditions had improved in the early hours of Sunday, with winds blowing at 14 meters per second, down from 24 meters per second previously, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The wind speeds are expected to fall further during Sunday.

Images and film posted by passengers on social media showed furniture sliding around as the vessel drifted in waves of up to eight meters (26 feet), and passengers earlier described the ordeal.

Slideshow (3 Images)

“We were having lunch when it began to shake. Window panes were broken and water came in. It was just chaos. The trip on the helicopter, I would rather forget. It was not fun,” American passenger John Curry told public broadcaster NRK on Saturday.

The stretch of water known as Hustadvika and surrounding areas are known for fierce weather and shallow waters dotted with reefs.

Viking Cruises, which owns the ship, on Saturday said the safety of passengers was its top priority. The company was not immediately available for further comment on Sunday.

Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Jane Merriman/Keith Weir

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Rescue services prepare to tow stricken cruise ship off Norway to port

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OSLO (Reuters) – Evacuation from a luxury cruise liner with engine trouble off the coast of Norway continued for a second day on Sunday, with 397 people airlifted off the vessel, while rescue services prepared to tow the ship to a nearby port, rescue workers said.

The Viking Sky, with 1,373 passengers and crew on board, sent out a mayday signal on Saturday as it drifted towards land in the Norwegian Sea.

“The evacuation continues at the request of the vessel … they need tugboats to get to port,” rescue service spokesman Per Fjeld said, adding that the plan was to bring the Viking Sky to the town of Molde.

Rescue services have begun to attach lines to the ship from tugboats to begin towing it towards the port.

The ship has been able to restart three of its four engines but was still requesting assistance.

Stormy weather conditions had improved in the early hours of Sunday, with winds blowing at 14 meters per second, down from 24 meters per second previously, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The wind speeds are expected to fall further during Sunday.

The stretch of water known as Hustadvika and surrounding areas are known for fierce weather and shallow waters dotted with reefs.

Viking Cruises, which owns the ship, on Saturday said the safety of passengers was its top priority. The company was not immediately available for further comment on Sunday.

Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche. Editing by Jane Merriman

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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