MASS shootings at two mosques in Christchurch killed 49 people on what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”.

Authorities have detained four people and defused explosive devices in what appeared to be a carefully planned attack.

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Ms Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence” and acknowledged many of those affected may be migrants and refugees.

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She said more than 20 people were seriously wounded.

“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ms Ardern said.

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Police took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation of five million people.

Authorities have not elaborated on who they detained. But a man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for his actions. He said he was a 28-year-old white Australian.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the four people arrested was an Australian-born citizen.

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Ms Ardern at a news conference alluded to anti-immigrant sentiment as the possible motive, saying that while many people affected by the shootings may be migrants or refugees “they have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not”.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police were not aware of other suspects beyond the four who were detained but they could not be certain.

“The attackers were apprehended by local police staff. There have been some absolute acts of bravery,” Mr Bush said.

“I’m hugely proud of our police staff, the way they responded to this. But let’s not presume the danger is gone.”

Mr Bush said the defence force had defused a number of improvised explosive devices that were attached to vehicles stopped after the attacks.

He said anybody who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand on Friday should stay put.

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The deadliest attack occurred at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch.

Ms Arden said 30 people were killed there.

Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.

Mr Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway, and fled.

Mr Peneha said he then went into the mosque to try to help.

“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said.

“I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”

He said he helped about five people recover in his home. He said one was slightly injured.

“I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly,” he said. “I just don’t understand it.”

He said the gunman was white and was wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.

A video that was apparently live-streamed by the shooter shows the attack in horrifying detail. The gunman spends more than two minutes inside the mosque hitting terrified worshippers with bullets.

He then walks outside to the street, where he shoots at people on the pavement.

The gunman then walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground.

After walking back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where the song Fire by English rock band The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown can be heard blasting from the speakers.

There was a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque that Ms Ardern said killed 10 people.

Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer-goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.

Mr Nichols said he saw two injured people being carried out on stretchers and that both people appeared to be alive.

The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting said he came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the attack.

He said he was not a member of any organisation, but had donated to and interacted with many nationalist groups, though he acted alone and no group ordered the attack.

The vice president of the Muslim Association of Britain said the Muslim community will not be intimidated by terror attacks, as he urged authorities to "secure the safety of our people".

Mohammed Kozbar, who is also general secretary of the Finsbury Park Mosque where one man was killed in an attack in June 2017, said the New Zealand mosque attacker "just wanted to send a message that anyone can do that, that the Muslim community are not safe, and they can kill them whenever they want".

"This has to be taken very seriously by the authorities and secure the safety of our people," he said.Speaking at Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, where several people had left flowers outside remembering the attack of two years ago, Mr Kozbar said: "It is shocking and beyond imagination. Innocent people being massacred in that way while they're going to pray is something which shocked everybody.

"Our message is we are a resilient community and we will not be intimidated by this.

"This is what our community is about, solidarity and community. We will make sure these people will not succeed, whether it's this perpetrator or other far-right extremists here in the UK or elsewhere."

Mr Kozbar was also critical of the role of the Conservative Party in the rise of Islamophobia in the UK.

"It seems like that the Conservative Party don't take Islamophobia seriously," he said.

"They don't recognise their problems within the party. It is not just the Conservative Party but it is spreading in wider society as well.

"These far-right people are given the platform to spread this without being challenged. This is a disease and unless we deal with it in a strong way and tackle it in a proper way, this will result in similar incidents to what happened in New Zealand.

"We have to take it seriously. The Conservative Party has to take it seriously, and I hope that the Prime Minister will now realise that they have to take measures to make sure that Islamophobia is being tackled in the proper way."

Theresa May's deputy, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, said the Christchurch attacks highlighted the need to "stamp out" Islamophobia.

Mr Lidington told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "On behalf of the whole British Government, I'm sure that the whole British people would want to share the sense of shock and grief that must be felt throughout New Zealand today.

"Our hearts go out particularly to the families of those who've lost people in New Zealand and also feelings of strong solidarity with Prime Minister Ardern and her government in New Zealand."

He added: "While I don't want at this early stage to comment on what the motivation of the criminals concerned might have been, Islamophobia is an evil. I know that there will be Muslim constituents of mine and Muslim British fellow-citizens throughout the country who will be worried about the reports from New Zealand and the implications for their own safety.

"All of us as a country, wherever we came from, whatever our ancestry, whatever our political loyalties may be, need to demonstrate a sense of solidarity and friendship with our British Muslim fellow-citizens.

"They are part of our country, they contribute so much to life in so many respects in the United Kingdom. They are welcome here, they are valued parts of our community and we need to demonstrate that friendship and solidarity and be very clear - across any political parties - we need to stamp out Islamophobia and take action against it wherever it is found."

In a message to the Governor-General of New Zealand, the Queen said: "I have been deeply saddened by the appalling events in Christchurch today. Prince Philip and I send our condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives.

"I also pay tribute to the emergency services and volunteers who are providing support to those who have been injured.

"At this tragic time, my thoughts and prayers are with all New Zealanders."

The Prince of Wales has said he is "utterly horrified" about the attacks, in a message to the people of New Zealand.

He said: "Both my wife and I were utterly horrified to hear of the most barbaric attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, which resulted in the cruel and tragic loss of so many people's lives.

"It is beyond all belief that so many should have been killed and injured at their place of worship and our most special and heartfelt sympathy goes out to all the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives.

"This appalling atrocity is an assault on all of us who cherish religious freedom, tolerance, compassion and community. I know that the people of New Zealand will never allow hate and division to triumph over these things they hold dear.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims' families, the first responders, the people of Christchurch and all New Zealanders at this most heartbreaking of times."