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Ahead of Women’s Soccer World Cup, two killed in a shooting in New Zealand

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At least two people and an armed attacker were killed and five others wounded in a shooting in New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland on Thursday, hours ahead of the opening match of the Women’s soccer World Cup in the city.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the soccer tournament would proceed as planned, adding the shooting appeared to be the actions of an individual and that police were not seeking anyone else in relation to the incident.

“There was no identified political or ideological motivation for the shooting and therefore no national security risk,” Hipkins said during a televised media briefing.

There would be no change to New Zealand’s security threat level although there would be an increased police presence in the city, he said.

Auckland has welcomed thousands of international players and tourists for the ninth Women’s World Cup which is being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

“Obviously we would prefer it not to have started in this way,” Hipkins told journalists later in the day.

“It will be acknowledged what happened today at the opening ceremony. And I will be going, it is safe to go and we continue to encourage the whole community to get behind this,” he said.

The gunman has not been formally identified but is believed to be a 24-year-old male who was employed at the construction site where the shooting occurred, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said at a news conference.

He was armed with a pump-action shot gun and moved through a building site shooting. After reaching the upper levels he contained himself within an elevator shaft and fired more shots before being found dead a short time later.

An officer was injured in the shooting, as well as four members of the public.

The gunman was the subject of a sentence of home detention but had an exemption to work at the site.

“The individual is known for primarily family violence history. There is nothing to suggest that he has presented a higher-level risk than was indicated by that history,” Coster said.

Soccer teams from New Zealand, Norway, Italy, the U.S., Vietnam and Portugal were known to be in the city when the shooting occurred.

“FIFA has been informed that this was an isolated incident that was not related to football operations and the opening match tonight at Eden Park will proceed as planned,” FIFA said in a statement to Reuters.

“The participating teams in close proximity to this incident are being supported in relation to any impact that may have taken place.”

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In the two opening World Cup matches on Thursday, Norway plays New Zealand in Auckland while Australia faces Ireland in Sydney.

SECURITY STEPPED UP

The shooting took place near the Norwegian team hotel in downtown Auckland, and several players took to social media to report they were safe.

“All seems calm, and we are preparing as normal for the match tonight,” Norway captain Maren Mjelde told Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang during the police operation.

Italy and the U.S. team’s training was delayed as players could not get out of their hotel.

Douglas Emhoff, the husband of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris who is leading the presidential delegation to New Zealand for the opening ceremony of the World Cup, is safe, the U.S. embassy said.

A U.S. Soccer spokesman said that the U.S. players were just getting up for breakfast inside the hotel when the incident occurred.

“Our security sort of immediately liaised with the local authorities and Department of State. We determined immediately that everybody was safe and accounted for and from then on we just had to wait it out,” Aaron Heifetz told reporters.

U.S. forward Lynn Williams said the incident was something she and her compatriots had dealt with “far too many times” in the United States, where gun violence is common.

“There was definitely a sense of, ‘Let’s come together.’ We still have a job to do. But also recognising that there was lives lost and that is very real and very devastating,” said Williams.

Several streets in Auckland were cordoned off, all ferry services into the city were cancelled, and buses were asked to detour some areas of the city.

Maurane Mifort-Paon, a 18-year-old tourist from France, said: “At first I was kind of worried but when I saw how the police were everywhere, it was very reassuring.”

A FIFA Fan Festival event just a few blocks from the shooting was delayed.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown said the shooting was not in any way related to the World Cup.

Gun violence is rare in New Zealand, which tightened its gun laws after a gunman killed 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch in 2019 in the country’s worst peace-time mass shooting.

The government has banned all military style semi-automatics and other deadly guns.

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