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Unlike the US, New Zealand PM promises gun law reform after 49 killed in mosque shootings

By Charlotte Greenfield and Praveen Menon

CHRISTCHURCH/WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Saturday promised to reform the country’s gun laws, a day after at least one gunman attacked worshippers in two mosques, killing 49 and wounding 42 others.

The attack, labeled terrorism by the prime minister, was the worst ever peacetime mass killing in New Zealand and the country raised its security threat level to the highest.

Armed police were deployed at several locations in all cities, unusual in a country where levels of gun violence are low.

The gunman broadcast footage of the attack on one of the mosques in the city of Christchurch on social media. A “manifesto” was also posted online, denouncing immigrants as “invaders”.

The video footage, posted live online as the attack unfolded, showed a man driving to the mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people inside.

Worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, lay on the floor, the video showed. Reuters was unable to confirm the authenticity of the footage.

Police said three people were in custody including one man in his late 20s who had been charged with murder. He will appear in court on Saturday. Police have not identified the suspects.

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“Our investigations are in their early stages and we will be looking closely to build a picture of any of the individuals involved and all of their activities prior to this horrific event,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.

Ardern said the main perpetrator used five weapons during his rampage, including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns, which he was legally licensed to own.

“I can tell you one thing right now, our gun laws will change,” Ardern told reporters.

The man facing murder charges was an Australian citizen who had spent a lot of time traveling overseas and spent time only sporadically in New Zealand, Ardern said.

None of those arrested had a criminal history or was on any watchlist in New Zealand or Australia.

Among the wounded, two were in a critical condition, including a four-year-old child, he said.

There was a heavy police presence at the hospital where families of the wounded had gathered. 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 the South Island city, which is still rebuilding after a devastating earthquake in 2011 that killed almost 200 people.

GRAPHIC: New Zealand shootings – https://tmsnrt.rs/2O3v80l

SORROW, SYMPATHY

Leaders around the world expressed sorrow and disgust at the attacks, with some deploring the demonization 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”.

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Asked by a reporter in Washington if he thought white nationalism is a rising threat around the world, Trump said: “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess if you look at what happened in New Zealand perhaps that’s a case, I don’t know enough about it yet.”

Ardern, who was flying to Christchurch on Saturday, 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.

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

“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.”

‘SHOOTING EVERYONE IN THE MOSQUE’

One man who said he was at the Al Noor mosque told media the gunman 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.

Facebook said it had deleted the gunman’s accounts “shortly after the livestream commenced” after being alerted by police. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all said they had taken steps to remove copies of the videos.

Ardern said she had asked authorities to look into whether there was any activity on social media or elsewhere ahead of the attack that should have triggered a response.

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Forty-one people were killed at the Al Noor mosque, seven at a mosque in the Linwood neighborhood and one died in hospital, police said.

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.

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

Social media was flooded with messages of shock, sympathy and solidarity.

One image shared widely was of a cartoon kiwi, the country’s national bird, weeping. Another showed a pair of figures, one in a headscarf, embracing. “This is your home and you should have been safe here” the caption read.

Grieving members of the public following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/SNPA/Martin Hunter
A police officer is seen after reports that several shots had been fired at a mosque, in central Christchurch, New Zealand March 15, 2019, in this still image taken from video. TVNZ/via REUTERS TV
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks on live television following fatal shootings at two mosques in central Christchurch, New Zealand March 15, 2019, in this still image taken from video. TVNZ/via REUTERS TVmore
A floral tribute with a card, placed by Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, is seen outside New Zealand House in London, Britain March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
People leave flowers at the Islamic Cultural Center of New York after the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand in New York City, New York, U.S. March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasii
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
An armed police officer stands guard in a perimeter outside Linwood mosque after Friday's gunmen attacks, in Christchurch, New Zealand March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Flowers are seen outside of New Zealand house to honour victims of shooting in New Zealand, in London, Britain March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Jacobs
People walk past the NASDAQ market site as it displays a sign of support for New Zealand in New York, New York, U.S., March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
An armed police officer stands guard next to flowers offered by a resident outside Linwood mosque after Friday's gunmen attacks, in Christchurch, New Zealand March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
AOS (Armed Offenders Squad) push back members of the public following a shooting at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand,, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/SNPA/Martin Hunter ATTENTION EDITORS - NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVESmore
An injured person is loaded into an ambulance following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/SNPA/Martin Hunter
Muslims pray for the victims of Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand after Friday prayers at the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossainmore
Armed police following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/SNPA/Martin Hunter
AOS (Armed Offenders Squad) member following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/SNPA/Martin Hunter
People lay flowers outside New Zealand House, following Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, in London, Britain March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police officers gather outside Linwood mosque after Friday's attacks, in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a news conference following the Christchurch mosque attacks, in Wellington, New Zealand March 16, 2019, in this still image taken from video. TVNZ/via REUTERS TVmore
Police and military personnel walk in the carpark compound of the district court after Friday's mosque attacks, in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
People gather at a vigil to mourn for the victims of the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, at Washington Square Park in Manhattan, in New York City, New York, U.S. March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasimore
People gather at a vigil to mourn for the victims of the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, at Washington Square Park in Manhattan, in New York City, New York, U.S. March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasimore
Members of the media wait at a gate as police and military personnel work at the carpark compound of the district court after Friday's mosque attacks, in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Sumore
People gather at a vigil to mourn for the victims of the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mark Makelamore
People embrace and hold the New Zealand flag while gathering at a vigil to mourn for the victims of the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mark Makelamore
Brenton Tarrant, charged for murder in relation to the mosque attacks, is lead into the dock for his appearance in the Christchurch District Court, New Zealand March 16, 2019. Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald/Pool via REUTERSmore

(Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook, John Mair and Swati Pandey in Sydney; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Sonya Hepinstall)

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