Police said homes around a “location of interest” in Dunedin had been evacuated as a precaution. Two improvised explosive devises were allegedly found in a suspect’s car.
Tarrant posted a jumbled, 74-page manifesto on social media under the name Brenton Tarrant, identifying himself as a 28-year-old Australian and white supremacist who was out to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.
He also live-streamed in graphic detail 17 minutes of the rampage at Al Noor Mosque, where, armed with at least two assault rifles and a shotgun, he is shown spraying worshippers with bullets over and over, killing at least 41 people.
Several more people were killed in an attack on a second mosque in the city a short time later.
At least 48 people were wounded, some critically. Police also said they defused explosive devices in a car.
On Saturday, outside one of the two mosques, 32-year-old Ash Mohammed pushed through police barricades in hopes of finding out what happened to his father and two brothers, whose cellphones rang unanswered. An officer stopped him.
“We just want to know if they are dead or alive,” Mohammed told the officer.
In the aftermath, the country’s threat level was raised from low to high.
Police warned Muslims against going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand.
And the national airline cancelled several flights in and out of Christchurch, a city of nearly 400,000.
World leaders condemned the violence and offered condolences. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and other Islamic leaders pointed to the bloodbath and other such attacks as evidence of rising hostility toward Muslims since 9/11.
New Zealand, with a population of five million, has relatively loose gun laws and an estimated 1.5 million firearms, or roughly one for every three people.
But it has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world. In 2015, it had just eight gun homicides.
On Saturday, the prime minister said the “primary perpetrator” in the shootings was a licensed gun owner and legally acquired the five guns used.
Ardern said the country’s gun laws will change as a result of the carnage, but she did not specify how.
The prime minister said the attack reflected “extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand.”
At the Al Noor mosque, witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black and wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top enter the house of worship and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running out in terror.
Peneha, who lives next door, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway and fled.
Peneha then went into the mosque to help the victims.
“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.”
Facebook, Twitter and Google scrambled to take down the shooting video, which was widely available on social media for hours after the bloodbath.
The second attack took place at the Linwood mosque about five kilometres away. Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald he heard about five gunshots and a worshipper returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.
The footage showed the killer was carrying a shotgun and two fully automatic military assault rifles, with an extra magazine taped to one of the weapons so that he could reload quickly.
He also had more assault weapons in the trunk of his car, along with what appeared to be explosives.
Tarrant’s manifesto was a welter of often politically contradictory views, touching on many of the most combustible issues of the day, among them the Second Amendment right to own guns, Muslim immigration, terrorist attacks and the wealthiest one per cent.
He portrayed himself as a racist and a fascist and raged against non-Westerners, but said China is the nation that most aligns with his political and social values.
Tarrant said he was not a member of any organization, acted alone and chose New Zealand to show that even the most remote parts of the world are not free of “mass immigration.”
Last year, New Zealand’s prime minister announced the country would boost its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 in 2020.
Ardern, whose party campaigned on a promise to take in more refugees, called it “the right thing to do.”
Christchurch, sometimes called the Garden City, has been rebuilding since an earthquake in 2011 killed 185 people and destroyed many downtown buildings.