Australian police said that the counter-terrorism teams raided two homes linked to the mass shooting that killed at least 50 people at two New Zealand mosques last week.

Australian police said the homes were in New South Wales where the accused gunman, Brenton Tarrant, grew up, though he has spent most of the last decade overseas.
Australian police said the homes were in New South Wales where the accused gunman, Brenton Tarrant, grew up, though he has spent most of the last decade overseas. (Reuters Archive)

Australian police search homes linked to NZ mosque attacks

Australian police said they had executed two search warrants in towns on the New South Wales mid-north coast related to the investigation into Friday's terrorist attacks at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.

Police said that a search warrant was executed on Monday by the New South Wales Joint Counter Terrorism Team (JCTT) at a home in the town of Sandy Beach, near Coffs Harbour, and shortly after another warrant was executed at a home in Lawrence, near Maclean.

"The primary aim of the activity is to formally obtain material that may assist New Zealand Police in their ongoing investigation," the Australian Federal Police and NSW Police said in a joint statement.

They said the family of the Australian man arrested in Christchurch was assisting police.

"The community can be assured that there is no information to suggest a current or impending threat related to the search warrants," the statement said.

Tensions rise over burials of terror victims

The first bodies from the Christchurch mosque massacres were due to be released late Sunday amid growing frustration from victims' families over delays in getting their remains for burial.

Islamic custom dictates that the deceased should be buried within 24 hours, but authorities said the complex investigation into the massacre of 50 worshippers during Friday prayers made a quick process difficult.

New Zealand officials said at least one body would be returned Sunday night, and that all 50 should be back with their families by Wednesday.

"It's a massacre, what else do they need to know?" Sheikh Amjad Ali, an assistant school principal who had travelled from Auckland to help with the funeral arrangements, told AFP news agency about some frustrations with the wait.

"The families are sad but they are getting a bit frustrated. The reasons of their deaths are known ... why not release those who have been identified," he said.

"I'm not going to talk against authorities because they have their own rules and regulations, but they are balancing between the culture and religious views and the local laws."

TRT World's Nicole Johnston reports from New Zealand.

Ali said it was difficult for relatives to know that the bodies had been lying in the mosques for more than a day.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a "small number" of bodies would be returned to families from Sunday evening.

"It is the expectation that all bodies will be returned to families by Wednesday," she told reporters, adding that six disaster recognition experts from Australia were helping out with the identification process.

Memorials continue 

New Zealanders flocked to memorial sites on Sunday to lay flowers and mourn the victims of the terrorist attack on two mosque in Christchurch, as testimony emerged of epic heroism and harrowing suffering in the gun attack that has claimed 50 lives.

A list circulated by relatives showed the victims ranged in age from three to 77 and included at least four women.

The list also documents the international scale of the tragedy, with those killed hailing from across the Muslim world and including members of two generations of the same family.

For almost three days forensics teams have been working through multiple crime scenes - at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques as well as a house in Dunedin, the southeastern city where the Tarrant lived.

Bodies of those he gunned down had remained inside the mosque awaiting autopsies and identification by increasingly distraught family members desperate to begin Muslim burial rites.

Ardern tried to reassure them on Sunday.

"I can confirm that the bodies of those who have died are beginning to be returned to their families from this evening," she said, adding that all were expected to be released by Wednesday.

NZ PM office received manifesto before attack

The terrorist, a self-confessed white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, documented his two-year preparations in a lengthy, meandering and conspiracy-filled far-right "manifesto".

Ardern said on Sunday that her office had received the manifesto some nine minutes before the attack.

"It did not include a location, it did not include specific details," she said, adding that it was sent to security services within two minutes of receipt.

Change in gun laws

The mosque attacks have shaken this usually peaceful country, which prides itself on welcoming refugees fleeing violence or persecution.

Ardern has vowed to change the country's gun laws and to uncover how a self-avowed extremist legally purchased two semi-automatic weapons, reportedly AR-15s, two shotguns and a lever-action gun without drawing the attention of the authorities.

It has also has emerged that a former soldier raised concerns about extremism at Tarrant's gun club in Dunedin.

Ardern said the cabinet would be briefed on Monday on the aftermath of the disaster and begin discussions "around issues like, for instance, gun policy."

Terrorist to face justice in New Zealand

Jacinda Ardern said the the terrorist who attacked two mosques will certainly face the justice system of New Zealand and the trial will take place in the country only.

Commenting on a possible extradition to Australia, she clarified that it could take place only after completion of sentence in new Zealand.

She added that the main offender was remanded in police custody until April 5 and that further charges would be filed against the terrorists, who has beed identified as a 28-year-old Australian.

The New Zealand prime minister cited police as saying that there is no indication that two other people who arrested on the massacre day were connected to the attacks.

Ardern added that police had confirmed that another person has been taken into custody based on evidence collected during the investigation of the terror strike but there was no information that links the person to the mosque attacks.

Turkish delegation welcomed

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that a high-level Turkish delegation will visit New Zealand to pay respects to the victims of the terrorist attack and to express solidarity with the country's Muslim community. She welcomed the visit of the Turkish delegation.

Issues with social media

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has sent condolences over the massacre in Christchurch.

"Certainly, I have had contact from Sheryl Sandberg. I haven't spoken to her directly but she has reached out, an acknowledgment of what has occurred here in New Zealand," Ardern said a media conference when asked if Facebook should stop live-streaming.

"This is an issue that I will look to be discussing directly with Facebook," Ardern said.

Facebook Inc said it removed 1.5 million videos globally of the New Zealand mosque attack in the first 24 hours after the terrorist attack.

"In the first 24 hours we removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally, of which over 1.2 million were blocked at upload...," Facebook said in a tweet late Saturday.

The company said it is also removing all edited versions of the video that do not show graphic content out of respect for the people affected by the mosque shooting and the concerns of local authorities.

Mourners gather at floral tribute to terror attack victims

Vigils and memorials were held on Saturday in New Zealand and many other world cities to mourn the victims of the terrorist attack in which 50 people were killed, and to show support to their families and the country's tiny Muslim community.

An emotional Haka was performed outside the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, where a lone terrorist, identified as Brenton Tarrant, killed 41 people before attacking another nearby mosque in the city. 

It took the terrorist seven minutes to travel to the second mosque in the suburb of Linwood, where seven people were killed. One victim died in the hospital.

As mourners stood silently at a floral tribute to the victims, one man walked onto the street and performed the traditional war dance.

The Haka is an ancient Maori war dance, performed at weddings, funerals and to challenge opponents on the sports field, most notably by New Zealand's All Blacks rugby team.

Terrorist wanted to 'continue' rampage – PM

The main suspect in New Zealand's worst peacetime mass shooting intended to continue the rampage before he was caught by police, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Saturday.

The statement came as the New Zealand prime minister arrived in Christchurch where she is due to visit victims in local hospitals

"The offender was mobile, there were two other firearms in the vehicle that the offender was in, and it absolutely was his intention to continue with his attack," Ardern told reporters in Christchurch. 

She added that 28-year-old suspect of Friday's carnage, Brenton Harrison Tarrant who has already been charged with murder, will likely face further charges.

"I'm not privileged to a full breakdown at this point but it is clear that young children have been caught up in this horrific attack," she said regarding victims of the attack.

Ardern also vowed to toughen the country's gun laws after revealing the alleged shooter behind Christchurch's mosque attacks had legally bought the five weapons, including two semi-automatic rifles, used in the massacre.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh's cricket team left New Zealand on Saturday, less than 24 hours after narrowly avoiding being involved in the worst mass shooting in the country.

New Zealand will now have to accept that sporting events were likely to have been changed for ever.

Massacre won't shake Muslims' love for New Zealand

The imam, who was leading prayers at one of the Christchurch mosques that was attacked, said that the Muslim community's love for New Zealand would not be shaken by the massacre.

"We still love this country," said Ibrahim Abdul Halim, imam of Linwood Mosque, vowing that such incidents would "never ever touch our confidence."

He said the majority of New Zealanders "are very keen to support all of us, to give us full solidarity", describing how strangers exchanged hugs with him on Saturday.

"They start to... give me big hug, and give me more solidarity. This is something very important."

New Zealand terror attack suspect who filmed himself rampaging through two mosques in Christchurch killing 50 worshippers appeared in court on a murder charge Saturday.

Australian-born terrorist appeared in the dock wearing handcuffs and a white prison shirt, sitting impassively as the judge read a single murder charge against him. A raft of further charges are expected.

Self-professed fascist occasionally turned to look and smirked at media present in court during the brief hearing that was held behind closed doors for security reasons.

He did not request bail and was taken into custody until his next court appearance scheduled for April 5.

At least 50 people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers on what the prime minister called "one of New Zealand's darkest days."

The terrorist was arrested and charged with murder in what appeared to be a carefully planned terrorist attack in Christchurch city. Police also defused explosive devices in a car.

Forty-two people are still being treated in hospital for injuries, including a four-year-old child, New Zealand health authorities said.

Wounds range from minor to critical, they said.

Still image taken from video circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack on two mosques unfolded, shows him driving in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019.
Still image taken from video circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack on two mosques unfolded, shows him driving in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. (Reuters)

The suspect 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.

TRT World's Jacob Brown explains.

Police also took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation of five million people. 

Police later said one of the arrests didn't relate to the shootings.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand had been placed on its highest security threat level. 

The prime minister 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," she said. 

"From what we know, it does appear to have been well planned."

Twin attacks

About 41 people were killed at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch at about 1:45 pm [local time], and the rest were killed in a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that an Australian citizen was arrested in New Zealand's mosque shootings. He called the attacker an "extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist."

New Zealand police lifted a city-wide lockdown that was imposed in Christchurch after the attacks.

New Zealand's Police Commissioner Mike Bush said a number of IEDs that were attached to vehicles were found and made safe by their defence force.

Witnesses told media that a man dressed in a military-style, camouflage outfit, and carrying an automatic rifle had started randomly shooting people in the Al Noor mosque. 

He had livestreamed the shooting on Facebook.

Cricketers escape unhurt 

Meanwhile, the third cricket test between New Zealand and Bangladesh has been cancelled in the wake of the shooting. 

The visiting Bangladesh cricket team narrowly avoided the shooting after arriving at the mosque for prayers.

New Zealand Cricket said they had decided to cancel the test, which was scheduled to start at Hagley Oval on Saturday, after discussions with the Bangladesh Cricket Board.

A witness described the sound of gunfire breaking out just as the prayer leader began his sermon at a mosque.

Radio New Zealand quoted a witness inside the mosque saying he heard shots fired and at least four people were lying on the ground and "there was blood everywhere".

"Horrified to hear of Christchurch mosque shootings. There is never a justification for that sort of hatred," said Amy Adams, a member of parliament from Christchurch.

Terrorist had visited Bulgaria

Prosecutors in Bulgaria launched a probe into a recent visit to the country by the terrorist behind the attack.

He visited Bulgaria from November 9-15 last year claiming he wanted "to visit historical sites and study the history of the Balkan country", Bulgaria's public prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said, adding that the inquiry would establish if this was "correct or if he had other objectives."

Muslims account for just over 1 percent of New Zealand's population, a 2013 census showed.

Christchurch is home to nearly 400,000 people and is sometimes called the Garden City. It has been rebuilding since an earthquake in 2011 killed 185 people and destroyed many downtown buildings.

Before Friday's attack, New Zealand's deadliest shooting in modern history took place in the small town of Aramoana in 1990, when a gunman killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbour.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies