Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called it "one of New Zealand's darkest days," as authorities announced that mass shootings at two mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers had killed 49 people and seriously injured around 20.
Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented "an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence" and acknowledged many of those affected may be migrants and refugees.
"It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack," Ardern said.
"We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism.We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things," she said.
"Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack."
"We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages. And amongst that diversity we share common values. And the one that we place the currency on right now is our compassion and support for the community of those directly affected by this tragedy.
Police took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation of 5 million people. While there was no reason to believe there were more suspects, Ardern said the national security threat level was being raised to the second-highest level.
Authorities have not specified who they detained, but said none had been on any watchlist. 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 the attack. He said he was a 28-year-old white Australian and a racist.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the four people detained was an Australian-born citizen.
Ardern 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".
As for the suspects, Ardern said "these are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand".
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police were not aware of other suspects beyond the four who were detained but they couldn't be certain. He said the defence force had defused a number of improvised explosive devices that were attached to vehicles stopped after the attacks.
The deadliest attack occurred at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch at about 1:45pm. Arden said 30 people were killed there. Ten people were killed at a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque.
A video that was apparently livestreamed by the shooter shows the attack in horrifying detail. The gunman spends more than two minutes inside the mosque spraying terrified worshippers with bullets again and again, sometimes re-firing at people he has already cut down.
He then walks outside to the street, where he shoots at people on the sidewalk. Children's screams can be heard in the distance as he returns to his car to get another rifle.
The gunman then walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground.
After walking back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where the song "Fire" by English rock band "The Crazy World of Arthur Brown" can be heard blasting from the speakers. The singer bellows, "I am the god of hellfire!" and the gunman drives away. The video then cuts out. (AFP, AP)
Last updated: 2019-03-15 HKT 16:24