The death toll in the New Zealand mosque shootings rose to 50 on Sunday after police found another victim at one of the mosques, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said bodies of those killed would begin to be released to families for burial.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday. Tarrant was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5 where police said he was likely to face more charges.
Friday’s attack, which Ardern labelled as terrorism, was the worst ever peacetime mass killing in New Zealand and the country had raised its security threat level to the highest.
Footage of the attack on one of the mosques was broadcast live on Facebook, and a “manifesto” denouncing immigrants as “invaders” was also posted online via links to related social media accounts.
It is customary in Islam to bury the dead within 24 hours but no bodies have been released because of the investigation, police said.
Arden said bodies would be handed over to families from Sunday evening.
“It is likely, however, to be a small number to begin with,” she told a media briefing, adding that all should be returned by Wednesday.
Ardern said police would be posted at all mosques while they are open.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the body of the 50th victim was found at the Al Noor mosque, where more than 40 people died after a gunman entered and shot at people with a semi-automatic rifle with high-capacity magazines, before travelling to a second mosque. One man at the second mosque in the suburb of Linwood was being hailed for distracting and confronting the shooter, preventing further deaths.
Abdul Aziz, 48, told media he heard shooting and ran outside the mosque, shouting at the gunman and drawing him away from the building, the Newshub website reported.
Aziz, originally from Afghanistan, said he picked up one of the gunman’s discarded weapons and threatened the man, who drove off.
Police then rammed the gunman’s vehicle and arrested him.