BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Ministry of Education (MoE) has said that Bruneian students in Christchurch are safe and accounted for after a white supremacist with semi-automatic weapons rampaged through two mosques shortly before Friday prayers, gunning down 49 worshippers in what has been described as one of New Zealand’s “darkest days”.

In a statement issued yesterday, MoE said there are three Bruneian students studying in central Christchurch — a city with a population of just 375,000 — but that they were not in the mosque vicinity when the attacks occurred.

The ministry urged Bruneian students in New Zealand to contact the government’s education attaché in Canberra, Australia to report that they are safe.

The mass shooting, thought to be the deadliest attack against Muslims in the West in modern times, was live-streamed by the gunman, showing him going room-to-room and shooting victims at close range.

Police cordon off the area in front of the Masjid al Noor mosque after a mass shooting in Christchurch on March 15, 2019. Attacks on two Christchurch mosques left at least 49 dead, triggeering the lockdown of the New Zealand city. Photo by Tessa Burrows/AFP

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah said Brunei joins the international community in condemning all acts of violence against civilians in places of worship, and “stands with the people and Government of New Zealand in this challenging time”.

The Prime Minister’s Office also issued a statement issued yesterday, condemning the attack as a “heinous and inhumane act of terrorism”.

It also warned locals to not share footage that contained “elements of violence”, saying it could potentially create anxiety among the audience and create “undesirable responses and negative perceptions on the cause of the incident”.

“Given the broader exposure to online content, every individual plays a role in practising safe and prudent use of technology. As consumers, the public is advised to respect the sensitivity and feelings of the affected families,” the statement read, adding that “inappropriate use of media may be punishable under relevant acts”.

Suspect appears in court New Zealand court charged with murder

The suspect, Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, 28, flashed a white power sign as he appeared in a New Zealand court Saturday, as the judge read a single murder charge against him. A raft of further charges are expected.

The former fitness instructor and self-professed fascist occasionally turned to look at media present in court during the brief hearing that the public were excluded from for security reasons.

Flanked by armed police he flashed an upside-down “okay” signal, a symbol used by white power groups across the globe. He did not request bail and was taken into custody until his next court appearance which is scheduled for April 5.

This image grab from a self-shot video that was streamed on Facebook Live on March 15, 2019 by the suspect involved in two mosque shootings in Christchurch shows the man in his car before he entered the Masjid al Noor mosque. Photo: AFP handout

A short distance away, 39 people were being treated in hospital for gunshot wounds and other injuries inflicted in the massacre. They included a two-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, who is in critical condition.

Doctors at Christchurch hospital said they worked through the night in 12 operating theatres to do what they could to save the survivors.

For many, the road to recovery will require multiple surgical procedures and many survivors said the mental scars may never fully heal.

The attack on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques has been labelled terrorism by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, calling it one of New Zealand’s “darkest days”.

Outside the court, the son of 71-year-old Afghan victim Daoud Nabi demanded justice for his late father, who believed New Zealand to be a “slice of paradise.”

“It’s outrageous, the feeling is outrageous,” he said. “It’s beyond imagination.”

Ardern said the victims came from across the Muslim world, with Turkey, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia among the countries rendering consular assistance.

One Saudi citizen and two Jordanians were among the dead, while five Pakistani citizens were missing.

Grief and shock

The attack has prompted an outpouring of grief and deep shock in this usually peaceful country, which prides itself on welcoming refugees fleeing violence or persecution.

Although shops were shuttered and many decided to stay at home, Christchurch residents piled bouquets of flowers at a makeshift memorial near the Al Noor mosque, many accompanied with handwritten letters laden with sadness and disbelief.

“I am so sorry that you were not safe here. Our hearts are breaking for your loss,” read one of the notes marked with a string of x-kisses.

Residents pay their respects by placing flowers for the victims of the mosques attacks in Christchurch on March 16, 2019. A far right extremist who filmed himself rampaging through two mosques in the quiet New Zealand city of Christchurch killing 49 worshippers appeared in court on a murder charge on March 16, 2019. Photo by Michael Bradley/AFP

Ardern, who arrived in Christchurch Saturday, said the shooter was not on any watchlist and did not have a criminal record.

“The offender was in possession of a gun licence obtained in November 2017, and he started purchasing the weapons the following month, she said.

Two semi-automatic weapons, two shotguns and lever-action gun were used in the attacks.

Two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were found in a car and neutralised by the military, while police raided a home in the southern city of Dunedin, where Ardern said the suspect was based.

“While work is being done as to the chain of events that led to both the holding of this gun licence and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now — our gun laws will change,” she said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (C) speaks with a representative of the refugee centre during a visit to the Canterbury Refugee Centre in Christchurch on March 16, 2019, following a mass shooting at two mosques that targeted Muslims. Photo by Marty Melville/AFP

The suspect documented his radicalisation and two years of preparations in a lengthy, meandering and conspiracy filled far-right “manifesto”.

He live-streamed footage of himself going room-to-room, victim to victim, shooting the wounded from close range as they struggled to crawl away in the main Christchurch mosque.

Thirty-six minutes after the police received the first call, Tarrant was in custody.

Commissioner Mike Bush hailed the “absolute bravery” of both police and members of the public “who put themselves in harm’s way” to apprehend the suspect.

“Their intervention may very likely have saved further lives.”

Two other people remain in custody, although their link to the attack is not clear. One man, 18-year-old Daniel Burrough, has been charged with incitement.

Another person who was earlier arrested was said to be a member of the public carrying a firearm who was trying to help.

‘Horrible massacre’

Tributes to the victims poured in from around the world.

US President Donald Trump condemned the “horrible massacre” in which “innocent people have so senselessly died”, but denied that the problem of right-wing extremism was widespread.

Speaking in Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the gunman as “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”.

New South Wales police commissioner Mick Fuller said police had visited Tarrant’s childhood home in the town of Grafton, north of Sydney, and spoken to family members as part of their investigation.

The attack has prompted searching questions about whether right-wing extremism has been treated with enough seriousness by Western governments.

Ali Soufan, a former high-ranking FBI counter-terrorism agent, said the threat needs to be treated with the same seriousness as jihadist violence.

“We are in the midst of a surge of right-wing terrorism that has been metastasising in plain sight while generating only a muted response from domestic counter-terrorism authorities,” he said.

Ardern said she would be reviewing events leading up to the attack to see how the suspect went unnoticed by authorities.

“The individual charged with murder had not come to the attention of the intelligence community, nor the police, for extremism,” she said.

“I have asked our agencies this morning to work swiftly on assessing whether there was any activity on social media or otherwise, that should have triggered a response. That work is already underway.”