WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A gunman opened fire in central Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, with witnesses saying there were multiple casualties in an attack at one mosque and perhaps a second.
The police said they were dealing with an active gunman, and the risk in the downtown area of the city remained “extremely high.”
The national public broadcaster Radio New Zealand reported that shots were fired at a mosque near Hagley Park, and that a second mosque on Linwood Avenue, also in Christchurch, was also attacked,
The country’s police commissioner, Mike Bush, said all Christchurch schools have been put on lockdown, and residents of the city were urged to stay indoors.
The website Stuff reported that the police had cleared nearby Cathedral Square, the site of a rally to fight climate change.
Witnesses told the local news media they had seen multiple people injured. The police would not confirm reports that people had been injured or killed, and would also not confirm the location of the shooting.
While the details of the shooting were still unclear, one purported witness, Mohammad Isam, a Bangladeshi journalist, posted a video of members of Bangladesh’s national cricket team who he said escaped the attack.
The video showed several men in the team’s jersey walking briskly through a park with the message, “Bangladesh team escaped from a mosque near Hagley Park where there were active shooters. They ran back through Hagley Park back to the Oval,” referring to the nearby cricket ground.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern canceled her events for the rest of the day after the shooting.
The shooting happened a day after the country’s minister for climate change, James Shaw, 45, told the police that he was grabbed and hit on the street in the country’s capital, Wellington.
Reports of the shooting happened as young protesters were gathering in Christchurch and cities around the world to demand action on climate change.
Christchurch, with about 388,000 residents, is the biggest city on New Zealand’s South Island, hugging the Pacific Ocean coast.
There hasn’t been a mass shooting in New Zealand since 1990, when a man killed 13 people, including two 6-year-olds, after a dispute with his neighbor in the seaside town of Aramoana.
That shooting led to tightened gun laws, including restrictions on “military style semiautomatic weapons.”
Gun owners must be licensed, a process that includes a review of criminal activity and mental health, attendance at a safety program, an explanation of how the gun would be used, a residence visit to ensure secure storage, and testimonials from relatives and friends.
Murders are rare in New Zealand, and gun deaths even rarer. There were 35 murders countrywide in 2017. Since 2007, gun homicides have been in the single digits each year except 2009, when there were 11.
But there are plenty of guns. There were 1.2 million registered firearms in a country of 4.6 million people in 2017, according to the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss nonprofit.
Much like in the United States, gun laws remain a source of heated political debate.