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Some 40 people are dead after mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand in a terror attack by white supremacists.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the attack was ‘well planned’ as she confirmed the death toll, adding to her early comments that the events in the city of Christchurch represented ‘an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence’.

Emergency services personnel transport a stretcher carrying a person at a hospital, after reports that several shots had been fired, in central Christchurch, New Zealand March 15, 2019, in this still image taken from video. TVNZ/via REUTERS TV ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. NEW ZEALAND OUT. AUSTRALIA OUT. Digital: NO USE NEW ZEALAND INTERNET SITES / ANY INTERNET SITE OF ANY NEW ZEALAND OR AUSTRALIA BASED MEDIA ORGANISATIONS OR MOBILE PLATFORMS . For Reuters customers only.

There were 30 fatalities at one mosque and 10 at another. Mosques in Deans Avenue and Linwood Avenue were targeted in the attack, but police urged all mosques across New Zealand to shut their doors in the wake of the incident.

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said: ‘I think we should be vigilant against the idea of extreme ideology and extreme violence and violent acts.’

She added: ‘You’ll notice from the language that you hear from those who work in our intelligence and security services that their focus is on extremism regardless of where it comes from.

‘We need to be blind in that regard. It needs to be absolutely focused on threat and ideology and extremism, because obviously that is what we have experienced here today.’

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)
Police and ambulance staff help a wounded 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)

Ms Ardern said: ‘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.’

Three men and one woman were taken into custody, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.

He said police had defused a number of improvised explosive devices found on vehicles after the shootings.

The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison this morning confirmed that one of the attackers was an Australian citizen.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the UK ‘stands with’ New Zealand after multiple people were killed in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch.

He tweeted: ‘Our hearts go out to the people of New Zealand following the news of this terrible act in Christchurch. NZ is one of the most peaceful, peace-loving and generous nations in the world. Your friends in the UK stand with you today in deepest sympathy.’

Four people were taken into custody following the incident on Friday.

A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for his actions.

He said he considered it a terrorist attack.

Ms Ardern at her news conference alluded to anti-immigrant sentiment as the possible motive, saying that while many people affected by the shootings may be migrants or refugees ‘they have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not’.

‘It’s a very serious and grave situation,’ Mr Bush said.

Anybody who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand on Friday should stay put, he added.

The deadliest shooting occurred at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch at about 1.45pm local time.

Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.

Mr Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his drive, and fled.

Mr Peneha said he then went into the mosque to try to help. ‘I saw dead people everywhere.

There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,’ he said. ‘I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.’

He said he helped about five people recover in his home.

He said one was slightly injured. ‘I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly,’ he said.

‘I just don’t understand it.’ He said the gunman was white and was wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.

Police said there was a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque. Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer-goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.

Mr Nichols said he saw two injured people being carried out on stretchers past his automotive shop and that both people appeared to be alive.

The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting said he was 28-year-old white Australian who came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the attack.

He said he was not a member of any organisation, but had donated to and interacted with many nationalist groups, though he acted alone and no group ordered the attack.

He said the mosques in Christchurch and Linwood would be the targets, as would a third mosque in the town of Ashburton if he could make it there.

He said he chose New Zealand because of its location, to show that even the most remote parts of the world were not free of ‘mass immigration’.

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