Authorities confirm the suspect in shooting deaths of 49 people is a 28-year-old Australian man
Heightened security at mosques and pledged support for the Muslim community defined the widespread response of law enforcement, civic and religious leaders across the U.S. and world in the wake of the horrific attacks Friday that claimed 49 lives at two mosques in New Zealand.
“Today we stand with the people of Christchurch, New Zealand,” said a statement Friday from Public Safety officials in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were killed in a shooting attack last fall at the Tree of Life synagogue. “We offer our deepest condolences. And we will continue to stand united against all forms of hate.”
In St. Paul, Minnesota, home to a large Muslim population, the police department tweeted: “We want our Muslim family members, friends and neighbors to know that we’ll do everything possible to keep you safe and secure in the city we share,” and promised to “make more frequent visits to our mosques and spend more time in the nearby areas.”
“We are stronger when we stand together, and together we’ll send the powerful message that all are welcome in Saint Paul,” the message said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said security around mosques there would be increased “out of an abundance of caution,” according to The New York Times. “New Yorkers heading to prayer can be confident that their city will protect them.”
The New Zealand attacks reflect a rising wave of intolerance in this country and elsewhere, said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, this nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, at a news conference in Washington, D.C., reports the Times.
“We are united against hate speech that sees immigrants as invaders,” he said. “One should not tolerate hate speech because hate speech leads to violence. Now we are looking at the result of hate speech.”
And in Britain, the attacks were condemned as “the most deadly Islamophobic terrorist attack we have witnessed in recent times” by Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
Authorities have indicated they expect murder charges against a shooting suspect, identified as 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, according to USA Today, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC.
Police have two others also in custody but have not yet formally named the suspects nor their connections to the attacks.
“It would seem that Brenton Tarrant’s murderous intention was to target Muslims at their places of worship and on their sacred day,” Khan said in a statement. “As the rest of us prepare to undertake our own Friday prayers today, we do so with the anxiety as to whether our mosques and communities are safe in the face of unabated Islamophobia and hostility against Muslims. I call on our government to redouble its efforts to ensure mosques are protected, and call on fellow Muslims to resist the temptation to roll up the banners in fear, as this attack was designed to do.”
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New Zealand police announced on Twitter that 41 people were killed at the Masjid al Noor mosque while seven died at the Linwood Masjid mosque; one more person died at a hospital from their injuries.
Disturbingly, the suspected male gunman live-streamed his attack on one of the mosques on social media.
Explosive devices also were later found in multiple vehicles by authorities.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern referred to the incident as “an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence” and considered it to be “New Zealand’s darkest day.”
“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said Friday. “From what we know, it does appear to have been well planned.”
The New York Times reports that Moustafa Farouk, a spokesman for the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, said the attack occurred during Friday prayer.
Ardern said New Zealand was targeted because it was a nation that celebrates multiculturalism.
“We were chosen because we represent diversity, kindness compassion, a home for those who share our values, a refuge for those who need it and those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack,” she said.
“These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that absolutely no place in New Zealand and no place in the world,” Ardern added, condemning those involved.
President Donald Trump condemned the attack, tweeting: “My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!”
Later, when asked Friday by a reporter if he sees an increase in white nationalism of the type allegedly attributed to the New Zealand shooting suspect, Trump replied: “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people,” according to CNBC.
But “the president’s rhetoric is part of the problem,” said Iman Boukadoum, a senior staff attorney with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a civil rights organization based in Washington, according to the Times.
Ardern confirmed in a news conference on Saturday local time that the suspected shooter was an Australian who used five guns in the attacks, and did have a gun license allowing him to legally purchase his weapons, according to the BBC.