Police Commissioner Mike Bush says police knew where the suspect from the Christchurch mosque attacks was going after the New Zealand shootings and intervened.
During a media conference today, Bush gave further details of the police response during the attacks that killed 50 people at Al Noor and Linwood mosques last Friday.
He said within five minutes and 39 seconds of being notified the first responders were armed and on the scene and ready to respond and within 10 minutes the armed offenders squad was on the scene.
WATCH RNZ VIDEO: Police Commissioner Mike Bush speaks to the media
“Within 21 minutes the person that is now in custody was arrested.”
Bush said the person was apprehended on the way to another target. He would not say what the target was.
“We strongly believe we stopped him on the way to a further attack, so lives were saved.
“We absolutely believe we know where he was going and we intervened along the way.”
2 assault rifles
He said during the arrest of the suspect, officers seized two assault rifles and at least one semi-automatic rifle.
Police had previously said the suspect was in custody at the justice precinct within 36 minutes, but Bush said the arrest at the roadside took only 21 minutes.
Speaking about identifying the victims’ bodies, Bush said it was an absolute priority to return the victims to their families.
As of at 11.30pm yesterday 21 of the victims had been formally identified, and by midday there would be a further six victims identified and made available to their families.
“By the end of today we should have completed the majority of those identifications. But I have to say that some of those victims will take a little longer.”
While the priority was the families, police also had other obligations, he said.
“The first one on behalf of the chief coroner and all of the coroners is to ensure absolute accuracy in that identification process,” Bush said.
“If we get it wrong, that’s unforgivable,” he said.
Six coroners including the chief coroner are on site. More than 100 specialists and experts including police, the Disaster Victim Identification unit, Defence Force pathologists and odonatologists were working on the identification with overseas assistance.
Bush said the other responsibility was the prosecution of the case.
“We must prove, for prosecution, the cause of death to the satisfaction of the coroner and the judge.
“You cannot convict for murder without that cause of death.”
The investigation was an international one, he said. The FBI were on the ground in New Zealand; Australian Federal Police, other Australian police and other jurisdictions overseas were being consulted.
The threat level remained at high.
Three other arrests
“If there was a specific threat, we would make sure we communicated that,” Bush said.
Along with the accused, there were three others arrested around the time of the attacks.
“There was a lone gentleman who appeared at one of the cordons. He wasn’t involved, he did have a firearm, so that’s been dealt with.
“There was another couple who turned up at a cordon – a male and a female.
“She has been released without charge. I do understand that the male in that vehicle has been charged with firearms offences.
“We do not believe that they are in any way related to the attacker or the attack.”
This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.