Breaking News Emails
Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
March 20, 2019, 5:22 AM GMT
By Dennis Romero
The suspect behind the unprecedented mosque attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, was en route to a third target when he was intercepted by authorities, police commissioner Mike Bush said at a news conference Wednesday.
“We strongly believe we stopped him on the way to a further attack,” he said. “So lives were saved by our staff, courageous in their intervention.”
The commissioner said that police went to the suspected third destination Friday to check for explosive devices. Bush wouldn’t say if the third site was a mosque or something else, but he did describe it as being in the region that contains Christchurch — “right across Canterbury actually.”
“We absolutely believe we know where he was going,” the commissioner said.
The shooter killed 50 people when he opened fire during Friday prayers at two mosques, Masjid Al Noor and Dar Al Hijrah. The mosques are nearly three miles apart in Christchurch.
Bush said officers arrived at the scene of the attack within five minutes, 39 seconds, and that “within 21 minutes the person that is now in custody was arrested.”
Muslim faith demands quick burial, and Bush said authorities were working feverishly to identify all of the fallen, sometimes with the help of visual confirmation from loved ones. Twenty-two of the victims have been identified by officials and relatives, according to NBC News’ reporting.
Bush said 21 have been “formally” identified.
Investigators were working with international law enforcement, including the FBI, “to build a comprehensive picture of this person that we will put before the court,” the commissioner said of the alleged shooter.
A father and son who fled the civil war in Syria for “the safest country in the world” were buried Wednesday in the first funerals for victims of the massacre.
The funerals of 44-year-old Khalid Mustafa and 15-year-old Hamza Mustafa came five days after a white supremacist methodically gunned down 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch — a massacre that he broadcast live on Facebook.
Brenton Harrison Tarrant has been charged with one count of murder in the attack, though he is expected to face additional charges. The 28-year-old Australian is being held in isolation in a Christchurch jail.
Of three others arrested in the chaos of the first response, Bush said a woman was released without allegations and two men were accused of firearms violations but had nothing to do with the violence.