Forty-nine people have been killed in shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.

The country’s police commissioner Mike Bush confirmed the death toll and said a man in his late 20s has been charged with murder.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier said at least 20 others had been seriously injured, and described it as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”.

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Jacinda ArdernNew Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern said it was one of the country’s darkest days (TVNZ/AP)

She said: “What has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”

Mr Bush told reporters in Wellington: “I would like to also add that so far one person, a male in his late 20s, has been charged with murder and should appear in the Christchurch court tomorrow morning.

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“Three other people were apprehended. We believe one of those persons, who was armed and was at the scene, may have had nothing to do with this incident.

“And the two other people that have been apprehended, again in possession of firearms in the general environment, we are working through to understand what their involvement is.

“We have recovered a number of firearms from both of the scenes.”

Mr Bush said the attack was a “very well-planned event”.

Asked if the police were searching for any other suspects, he said: “We never assume that there aren’t other people involved, that’s why we’ve got an immense presence out there… but we don’t have named or identified people that we are looking for, but it would be wrong to assume that there is no-one else.”

He added: “At this point we are not actively looking for any identified persons.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier said one of the people arrested was an Australian citizen, and described the suspected attacker as an “extremist right-wing violent terrorist”.

Alleged suspect – Brenton Tarrant – appeared to have live-streamed the attack on Facebook as victims in a mosque were shot.

The 28-year-old Australian described his anti-immigrant motives in a manifesto.

A number of improvised explosive devices found on vehicles after the shootings were defused by police.

An injured manAn injured man is taken to hospital (AP)

When asked about the attackers not being on intelligence agency watchlists, Ms Ardern said it was an indication they “had not acted in a way that warranted it”.

Asked about the ages of victims, she said: “I will have been amongst other members of the public who will have seen the footage as the injured were being brought to Christchurch A&E and you certainly can see from that footage there is a real range of ages there.

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“I imagine that these would have represented particular brothers, fathers, sons.”

She added: “We have undoubtedly experienced an attack today that is unprecedented, unlike anything that we have experienced before.

“But, as I say, New Zealand has been chosen because we are not a place where violent extremism exists.

“We reject those notions and we must continue to reject them. This is not an enclave for that kind of behaviour, for that kind of ideology.

Police stand outside a mosque in Linwood, ChristchurchPolice stand outside a mosque in Linwood, Christchurch (AP)

“We will and must reject it. This is a place where people should feel secure and will feel secure.

“I am not going to let this change New Zealand’s profile, none of us should.”

Officers responded to reports of shots fired in central Christchurch at about 1.40pm local time (12.40am GMT), and urged people in the area to stay indoors.

All schools in the city were put into lockdown as the situation unfolded.

When the death toll stood at 40, it was known that 30 people were killed at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch, seven were killed inside the suburban Linwood Masjid Mosque, and three died outside the same mosque.

Police urged all mosques across New Zealand to shut their doors in the wake of the incident.

Witness Mohan Ibrahim said he was one of 200 people in the Masjid Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue when he heard shots fired.

He told the New Zealand Herald: “At first we thought it was an electric shock but then all these people started running.”

“I still have friends inside,” he added.

“I have been calling my friends but there are many I haven’t heard from. I am scared for my friends’ lives.”

Members of the Bangladesh cricket team, currently on tour in New Zealand, said on social media that they had nearly been caught up in the tragedy.

Tamim Iqbal tweeted: “Entire team got saved from active shooters!!! Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers”, while Mushfiqur Rahim said: “Alhamdulillah Allah save us today while shooting in Christchurch in the mosque…we r extremely lucky…never want to see this things happen again…. pray for us”.

New Zealand Police urged people not to share “extremely distressing footage” relating to the incident that was circulating online.

“It’s very disturbing, it shouldn’t be in the public domain,” a spokesman said.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said the British High Commission in Wellington was in contact with the New Zealand authorities about the incident.

“British nationals in the area are advised to remain vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities,” he said.

“The British High Commission in Wellington is in contact with the New Zealand authorities and urgently seeking further information.”