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Erdogan says attackers targeting Turkey will go home 'in caskets'

Turkish president says mass shooting in New Zealand which left 50 people dead is part of a wider attack on Turkey
Erdogan was speaking at a rally on Monday commemorating the 1915 Gallipoli campaign (Reuters)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described a mass shooting which killed 50 people at two New Zealand mosques as part of a wider attack on Turkey and threatened to send back "in caskets" anyone who tried to take the battle to Istanbul.

Three Turkish citizens were wounded in the mosque attacks, said Turkey's embassy, and Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, flew to Christchurch to show support for the victims.

Erdogan, who is seeking to rally support for his ruling AK Party in 31 March local elections, has invoked the New Zealand attack as evidence of global anti-Muslim sentiment.

"They are testing us from 16,500km away, from New Zealand, with the messages they are giving from there. This isn't an individual act, this is organised," he said on Monday without elaborating.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he killed 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

At weekend election rallies, Erdogan showed video footage of the shootings, which the gunman had broadcast live on Facebook.

His use of the footage earned a rebuke from New Zealand's foreign minister who said it could endanger New Zealanders abroad.

The president also displayed extracts from a "manifesto" posted online by the attacker and later taken down.

'You will not turn Istanbul into Constantinople'

Erdogan has said the gunman issued threats against Turkey and the president himself, and wanted to drive Turks from Turkey's northwestern, European region. 

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Turkey's largest city, Istanbul, is split between an Asian part east of the Bosphorus, and a European half to the west.

"We have been here for 1,000 years and will be here until the apocalypse, God willing," Erdogan told a rally on Monday in Canakkale.

The event was commemorating the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, when Ottoman soldiers defeated British-led forces, including Australian and New Zealand troops, trying to seize the peninsula, a gateway to Istanbul.

"You will not turn Istanbul into Constantinople," he added, referring to the name of the city during the Byzantine and Ottoman eras prior to the creation of the Turkish Republic in the 1920s, and the formal renaming of the city in 1930.

"Your grandparents came here... and they returned in caskets," he said. "Have no doubt we will send you back like your grandfathers."

'Totally unfair'

Erdogan was re-elected last year with new powers but his AK Party, which has ruled Turkey since 2002, is battling for votes as the economy tips into recession after years of strong growth.

Speaking after a meeting of New Zealand's cabinet, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said he told his Turkish counterpart that Erdogan's use of the footage in an election campaign was wrong.

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"Anything of that nature that misrepresents this country, given that this was a non-New Zealand citizen, imperils the future and safety of the New Zealand people and our people abroad, and that is totally unfair," Peters said.

Turkish relations with New Zealand have generally been good, strengthened by Gallipoli commemorations which emphasise shared sacrifices in battle as much as the confrontation itself.

Cavusoglu, who was in Christchurch, said Muslims around the world were worried about Islamophobia and racism.

A senior Turkish security source said Tarrant had entered Turkey twice in 2016 - for a week in March and for more than a month in September. 

Turkish authorities have begun investigating everything from hotel records to camera footage to try to ascertain the reason for his visits, the source said.