Christchurch shootings: Dozens dead in mass shootings at New Zealand mosques 

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FORTY people are believed to have been killed in shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.

The country's prime minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the total and said at least 20 others had been seriously injured.

Armed police patrol outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. Picture: AP Photo/Mark Baker

Armed police patrol outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. Picture: AP Photo/Mark Baker

New Zealand Police had earlier said that four people - three men and one woman - were in custody in relation to the attacks.

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Police said they had defused a number of improvised explosive devices found on vehicles after the shootings.

Officers responded to reports of shots fired in central Christchurch at about 1.40pm local time (12.40am GMT), and urged people in the area to stay indoors.

A man reacts as he speaks on a mobile phone outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand following two mass shootings. Picture: AP Photo/Mark Baker

A man reacts as he speaks on a mobile phone outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand following two mass shootings. Picture: AP Photo/Mark Baker

All schools in the city were put into lockdown as the situation unfolded.

Mosques in Deans Avenue and Linwood Avenue were targeted in the attack, but police urged all mosques across New Zealand to shut their doors in the wake of the incident.

Ms Ardern called it ‘one of New Zealand's darkest days’’

She said: ‘I think we should be vigilant against the idea of extreme ideology and extreme violence and violent acts.

‘You'll notice from the language that you hear from those who work in our intelligence and security services that their focus is on extremism regardless of where it comes from.

‘We need to be blind in that regard. It needs to be absolutely focused on threat and ideology and extremism, because obviously that is what we have experienced here today.’ 

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The Prime Minister added: ‘We have undoubtedly experienced an attack today that is unprecedented, unlike anything that we have experienced before.

‘But, as I say, New Zealand has been chosen because we are not a place where violent extremism exists.

‘We reject those notions and we must continue to reject them. This is not an enclave for that kind of behaviour, for that kind of ideology.

‘We will and must reject it. This is a place where people should feel secure and will feel secure.

‘I am not going to let this change New Zealand's profile, none of us should.’ 

Ms Ardern said the offender is in custody, adding: ‘I can give that assurance, he has been apprehended.’

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the UK ‘stands with’ New Zealand after the shootings. 

He tweeted: ‘Our hearts go out to the people of New Zealand following the news of this terrible act in Christchurch. NZ is one of the most peaceful, peace-loving and generous nations in the world. Your friends in the UK stand with you today in deepest sympathy.’