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New Zealand Reels After Mass Shootings At 2 Mosques


We are following the tragic news from New Zealand this morning. There were mass shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch. And we're joined now by journalist Nadia Tolich from the radio network Newstalk ZB in Auckland. Good morning, and thank you so much for taking the time for us.

NADIA TOLICH: Thank you, David.

GREENE: Can you start by telling us exactly what happened, as you know it?

TOLICH: Sure. We had a call into our studio where somebody explained that they could hear shooting in the middle of Christchurch. Christchurch is our second biggest city, has a population of around 370,000 people. They explained that they were outside a mosque, and they could hear multiple gunshots. Police descended on the area. It was chaotic. We found out that there were literally dozens and dozens of people inside the mosque. They were worshipping. And the gunman went in and, as we now know, livestreamed the event, firing an automatic weapon. A man who was in a bathroom at the time of the shooting inside the mosque - he was washing his hands before praying. He explained how he could hear the shots being fired. The people involved were yelling out the worst, most horrible, hateful things to these people and firing and firing again until they were sure people were dead.

GREENE: Can you tell us - there are four people in custody, it sounds like. What do we know about who carried this out and what the motive might've been?

TOLICH: Yes. Very early on, we were tipped off that it was a person of interest who had a Twitter account. And on this Twitter account was some pretty grotesque, hateful content. And at the very top was an encrypted file, which we opened and discovered it to be a manifesto. This manifesto is very long - 80-odd pages - and details that the person involved was a 28-year-old Australian male, that he felt he needed to do this. It's hard to explain it without being - racist...

GREENE: Yeah, I...

TOLICH: ...Really, is what he is. He was racist. And it was hateful and hurtful and not really language and or attitudes that we see here in New Zealand, to be perfectly frank.

GREENE: I mean, it's obviously not language you want to hear or experience anywhere in the world, but talk to me about what it's like in New Zealand. I mean, you said this is a country that is just not accustomed to something like this at all.

TOLICH: No, not at - when it's - not at all. I have travelled the world for work. In Europe and in America, you see authorities, police authorities, military authorities with huge automatic weapons. I can tell you that that's the only place I've ever seen them. You do not see guns here. Police occasionally are armed, maybe at a big event or so forth. But you never see guns. It's just not a reality here in New Zealand.

GREENE: How large is the Muslim community in New Zealand?

TOLICH: It's fairly sizable. New Zealand is a diverse place. Our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has indicated that this evening. You know, we have more than 200 cultures in New Zealand. It's unbelievable. We're a welcoming and accepting society, largely. Yes, there are the odd people that are not. But that's just - I suppose, I would argue, is just general politics rather than being hate groups or hard-right activist groups. It surprises me that this has happened. It truly has surprised me.

GREENE: You mentioned to me that you've been speaking to witnesses and people who are in Christchurch who have gone through this. Are there other voices that stand out to you this morning?

TOLICH: Yeah. I think one thing I've seen today is that, at the moment, you've got dozens and dozens and dozens of family members waiting at Christchurch Hospital to find out if their loved ones are in hospital or not. And being not - that they are lying at those scenes of carnage. So, occasionally, reports are suggesting that people are crying out and wailing as they find out that their loved ones are not going to be coming home. And I could not think of anything worse. We also had a situation today where the entire city was in lockdown, and that included schools and universities. So parents actually couldn't get hold of their children largely until about 6 p.m. So that's also terrifying.

GREENE: Journalist Nadia Tolich is with the radio network Newstalk ZB in Auckland, New Zealand. Thank you very much.

TOLICH: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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