Death toll rises to 49 after mass shootings at New Zealand mosques

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The death toll in New Zealand has risen to 49 this morning following mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques.

The country's police commissioner Mike Bush confirmed the total, while prime minister Jacinda Ardern earlier said at least 20 others had been seriously injured.

Police officers are seen at the Masjid al Noor mosque after a shooting incident in Christchurch on March 15, 2019 (Photo TESSA BURROWS/AFP/Getty Images).

Police officers are seen at the Masjid al Noor mosque after a shooting incident in Christchurch on March 15, 2019 (Photo TESSA BURROWS/AFP/Getty Images).

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New Zealand Police said that four people - three men and one woman - are in custody in relation to the attacks.

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Australia's prime minister Scott Morrison said one of those arrested was an Australian citizen, and described the suspected attacker as an ‘extremist right-wing violent terrorist’.

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A number of improvised explosive devices found on vehicles after the shootings were defused by police.

Ms Ardern said the offender was in custody, adding: "So I can give that assurance, he has been apprehended. He is also accompanied by two other associates."

One of the attackers - Brenton Tarrant - appeared to have live-streamed the attack on Facebook as he shot victims in a mosque.

The 28-year-old Australian described his anti-immigrant motives in a manifesto.

When asked about the attackers not being on intelligence agency watchlists, Ms Ardern said it was an indication they ‘had not acted in a way that warranted it’.

Asked about the ages of victims, she said: "I will have been amongst other members of the public who will have seen the footage as the injured were being brought to Christchurch A&E and you certainly can see from that footage there is a real range of ages there.

"I imagine that these would have represented particular brothers, fathers, sons."

She added: "We have undoubtedly experienced an attack today that is unprecedented, unlike anything that we have experienced before.

"But, as I say, New Zealand has been chosen because we are not a place where violent extremism exists.

"We reject those notions and we must continue to reject them. This is not an enclave for that kind of behaviour, for that kind of ideology.

"We will and must reject it. This is a place where people should feel secure and will feel secure.

"I am not going to let this change New Zealand's profile, none of us should."

Officers responded to reports of shots fired in central Christchurch at about 1.40pm local time (12.40am GMT), and urged people in the area to stay indoors.

All schools in the city were put into lockdown as the situation unfolded.

When the death toll stood at 40, it was known that 30 people were killed at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch, seven were killed inside the suburban Linwood Masjid Mosque, and three died outside the same mosque.

Police urged all mosques across New Zealand to shut their doors in the wake of the incident.

Ms Ardern had earlier called it ‘one of New Zealand's darkest days’.

"What has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence," she said.

Witness Mohan Ibrahim said he was one of 200 people in the Masjid Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue when he heard shots fired.

He told the New Zealand Herald: "At first we thought it was an electric shock but then all these people started running."

"I still have friends inside," he added.

"I have been calling my friends but there are many I haven't heard from. I am scared for my friends' lives."

New Zealand Police urged people not to share ‘extremely distressing footage’ relating to the incident that was circulating online.

"It's very disturbing, it shouldn't be in the public domain," a spokesman said.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said the British High Commission in Wellington was in contact with the New Zealand authorities about the incident.

"British nationals in the area are advised to remain vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities," he said.

"The British High Commission in Wellington is in contact with the New Zealand authorities and urgently seeking further information."