New Zealand attack: Death toll of Christchurch massacre rises to 50

The death toll in the Christchurch massacre has risen to 50 after a body was discovered at one of the mosques where a gunman opened fire on worshippers.

The latest victim was found as officials removed bodies from Al Noor mosque, where most of the victims were killed, said New Zealand police commissioner Mike Bush. The number of people injured has risen to 50, he added.

Eleven of the wounded were in a critical condition, with two fighting for their lives, according to New Zealand Police

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A four-year-old girl was reported to be among those seriously injured. She was named as Elin by her uncle Sabri Daraghmeh, who told reporters in a phone call from Jordan that she remained in “the danger phase”.

Her 33-year-old father, Mr Daraghmeh’s brother, is said to be in a stable condition. The Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin is reported to have moved to New Zealand five years ago and described it as “the safest place one could ever live in”.

Fourteen-year-old Sayyad Milne was also confirmed dead. “I haven’t heard officially yet that he’s actually passed, but I know he has because he was seen,” said his father, John. 

Greg Robertson, chief of surgery at Christchurch Hospital described the “horror” and “anger” of hospital staff as the scale of the massacre became apparent.

“This is not something that we expected to see in our environment,” he said. “We do see gunshot wounds, but 40, 50 people in a day is more than we should see.”

Describing the difficulty of “comprehending the incomprehensible”, he added: “Most people cope with things pretty well when you’re doing things. It’s when you go home and you think about it that that’s when the issues start to declare themselves.”

Mr Robertson said the injured had begun arriving at the hospital in cars as well as ambulances following the shootings.

Mr Bush, who had earlier called the attack a very well-planned event, said the suspect was not known to police either in New Zealand or Australia.

He said victims’ families would be supported by a very large contingent of ethnic liaison officers working with religious leaders and other support people. “There is so much outpouring of grief … and we have to support those people and meet their needs,” he said.

Later in the day, police said a search of the suspect’s property in Dunedin had been completed. “A number of items of interest were located, however no items that would present harm to members of the public were discovered,” police said.

Alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, appeared in court on Saturday charged with one count of murder. He was remanded until 5 April. Police said further charges would follow.

The terror attack on worshippers at Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch was live-streamed on Facebook. The gunman then travelled to nearby Linwood mosque, where he again opened fire. 

In the video a man inside the Al Noor mosque said “Welcome, brother” as the gunman approaches and begins to shoot.

Mr Bush said it was obvious the gunman had modified a category A firearm, although he stressed the alleged shooter obtained a legitimate firearms licence in 2017 in New Zealand. The suspected attacker left behind a 74-page document in which he referred to anti-Islam and far-right conspiracy theories and white supremacist ideology.

Two people arrested around the same time as the suspect were not believed to be involved in the attacks, with one released and another charged with firearms offences, he said. Another person arrested, who was in possession of a firearm, intended to help police and was released a short time later.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says gun laws will change

Condemning the shootings, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern called the massacre a well planned terrorist attack and vowed to change the country’s gun laws. Ms Arden said the alleged perpetrator had five guns and held a gun licence. 

She later flew to Christchurch along with opposition leader Simon Bridges and other senior government ministers. Visiting Muslim community leaders at a refugee centre, she said she brought a message of love and support and grief of the people of New Zealand.  

Mr Tarrant was arrested shortly after the terrorist attacks occurred. 

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Dressed in a white prison jumpsuit, he made a white power gesture at press cameras during an appearance at Christchurch District Court on Saturday morning, where he was charged with one count of murder.  

Judge PR Kellar said it was reasonable to assume Mr Tarrant would face further murder charges, before remanding him in custody until he appears at New Zealand’s High Court on 5 April.

She said that some of the victims might have been new immigrants and refugees, who had chosen to make the country their home.

As the investigation into the attacks continues, it has emerged that people from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey and Jordan were also among the dead.

Additional reporting by agencies 


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