The Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the shooting took place. Photo: Google Street View

Multiple death have been reported in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, where a gunman with an automatic weapon has opened fire in a crowded mosque during Friday afternoon prayers.

Unconfirmed reports from people nearby say up to 27 have been killed, while earlier reports put the number at six. The South Island city was placed in lockdown as police hunted for an “active shooter.”

“A serious and evolving situation is occurring in Christchurch with an active shooter,” police said in a statement.

“Police are responding with its full capability to manage the situation, but the risk environment remains extremely high.”

The Masjid al Noor was filled with worshippers, including members of the Bangladesh cricket team. One witness told he was praying in the Deans Ave mosque when he heard shooting and saw his wife lying dead on the footpath outside when he fled.

Another man said he saw children being shot. “There were bodies all over me,” he said.

One eyewitness told Radio New Zealand he heard shots being fired and four people were lying on the ground, with “blood everywhere.” Unconfirmed reports said the shooter was wearing military-style clothing.

Police commissioner Mike Bush said all schools in the city had been placed in lockdown in response to “a serious ongoing firearms incident.”

“Police urge anyone in central Christchurch to stay off the streets and report any suspicious behavior,” he said in a statement.

Central city buildings, including the Civic Offices and Central Library, were also locked down. The city council offered a helpline for parents looking for kids attending a mass climate change rally nearby.

“Please do not try and come and collect your children until police say it is safe for people to come into the central city,” they said.

There was no official information on casualties but a Bangladesh cricket team spokesman said none of the players were hurt.

“They are safe. But they are mentally shocked. We have asked the team to stay confined in the hotel,” he told AFP.

He said the attack started as some Bangladesh players disembarked from a team bus and were about to enter the mosque. He said most of the players went to the mosque.

He said Bangladesh cricket board was in contact with New Zealand cricket authorities and would take further decision after consultation

Reporting by AFP.

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