A Northern Ireland man living in Christchurch has compared the terror attack at two mosques to “something from the worst days of the Troubles”.
Tony Sweeney moved from Londonderry to New Zealand in 2014 when Christchurch was looking for skilled craftsmen to help rebuild the city after the devastating 2011 earthquakes.
He lives less than two minutes’ walk from Al Noor Mosque where a gunman on the rampage fired indiscriminately at people inside praying.
Mr Sweeney told the Belfast Telegraph: “I was at work when one of the local guys said there had been a mass shooting at a mosque, but at first I couldn’t quite believe what he was saying because this is New Zealand and you just don’t expect anything like this.
“I came here in 2014 after watching a programme on the earthquake and intended to stay for a year [when] I fell in love with the people and the beautiful countryside, but this has definitely had a big effect on people.
“People are really terrified, they have never experienced anything like this and I am trying to reassure them because this is something I grew up with.
“I was on the Bloody Sunday march with my father and I remember what that was like, and growing up through the Troubles you just took it for granted when you went out that you might get caught up in a bomb or shooting, but this is like nothing the Kiwis have ever known.”
Mr Sweeney said the atmosphere was “really tense”, with people scared.
He added: “The whole place is in lockdown now, there are armed police everywhere and the tension in the air is like nothing I have seen here before.
“The only reason I was allowed back to my home was because I had letters with me that proved I was a resident, but other people are stuck where they are. This is such a terrible thing. I pass that mosque every single day and see people with their prayer mats going into pray.”
Mr Sweeney said the reports were shocking. “I never thought for a second when I moved here that I would see the likes of this but I think the police are in control of the situation now, so hopefully things will get back to the way they were soon.”
Patrick Hegarty (26), an electrician originally from Cookstown in Co Tyrone who emigrated to New Zealand three years ago, said the sound of sirens filled the air for hours.
He added: “I only live a few miles away and I could hear police and ambulance sirens all day along and the helicopters have been in the sky constantly.”
Jonathan Scott (45), originally from Magherafelt, has been living in Christchurch since 2015 with his wife and two children.
“I work a few minutes across the city from where the nearest attack happened,” said Jonathan, who works in the marine industry.
“First thing we knew something was wrong was when we heard the sirens. And they didn’t stop.
“I’m as shocked as any person could be. I grew up in Northern Ireland and you always knew something serious had happened when that noise went on and on.”
He added: “I know some medics who went straight there even though they were on leave. Some incredible people did some incredible work in the most horrible circumstances and the bravery of the police was fantastic.”