New Zealand authorities readied Sunday to release the first remains of 50 worshippers slain in a twin mosque attack, allowing families from across the Muslim world to begin to bury their dead.
Coroners said they hoped to release at least one body late Sunday, allowing pious families — anxious to fulfil Muslim burial customs — to begin their sacred rites.
The dead span generations, aged between three and 77, according to a sombre list circulated among relatives.
Some victims came from the neighbourhood, others from as far afield as Egypt or Fiji. At least two of the dead — a father and son — came from the same family.
‘It’s a massacre, what else do they need to know?,’ said school principal Sheikh Amjad Ali, expressing frustration with the wait for loved ones’ remains.
Islamic custom dictates that the dead should be buried within 24 hours, but strained authorities, desperate to make sure no mistakes are made or the complex investigation harmed, said a quick process was difficult.
‘All of the deceased have had a CT scan, their fingerprints are taken, the property they were wearing or had with them is removed,’ said Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall, adding that dental impressions were taken and post-mortems performed.
Prime minster Jacinda Ardern said: ‘The bodies of those who have died are beginning to be returned to their families from this evening.’ She added that all were expected to be released by Wednesday.
As New Zealanders flocked to memorial sites to lay flowers and mourn the victims, testimony emerged of epic heroism, harrowing suffering and incredible grace.
Farid Ahmad, whose 44-year-old wife Husna was killed as she rushed back into a mosque to rescue him, refused to harbour hatred toward the gunman, Australian-born, self-avowed white nationalist, Brenton Tarrant.
‘I would say to him ‘I love him as a person’,’ Ahmad told AFP.
Asked if he forgave the 28-year-old suspect, he said: ‘Of course. The best thing is forgiveness, generosity, loving and caring, positivity.’
Husna Ahmad was among four women believed to have been killed by Tarrant, who documented his radicalisation and two years of preparations in a lengthy, meandering and conspiracy-filled far-right ‘manifesto’.
Ardern said on Sunday that her office and some 30 other officials had received the document by email about nine minutes before the attack.
‘It did not include a location, it did not include specific details,’ she said, adding that it was sent to security services within two minutes of receipt.
Authorities said 34 people remained in hospital.
Among those fighting for their lives is four-year-old Alin Alsati. The pre-schooler was praying alongside her father Waseeim at the Al Noor mosque when she was shot at least three times.
Her father, who was also shot, recently emigrated to New Zealand from Jordan.
‘Please pray for me and my daughter,’ he pleaded in a Facebook video message from his hospital bed before undergoing surgery.
The number of dead and injured could have been higher, were it not for people like Afghan refugee Abdul Aziz.
Aziz was at the Linwood mosque with his four sons when he rushed the attacker armed with the only weapon he could find — a hand-held credit card machine.
When Aziz heard one of his four sons cry ‘Daddy, please come back inside!’ he picked up an empty shotgun discarded by the gunman and shouted ‘come on here’ repeatedly in an effort to draw him away from his sons and the other worshippers.
‘I just wanted to save as much lives as I could, even if I lose my life,’ he told AFP.
The mosque attacks have shaken this usually peaceful country, which prides itself on welcoming refugees fleeing violence or persecution.
On Monday Ardern will gather her cabinet to discuss changing the country’s gun laws — possibly including a ban on semi-automatic weapons of the type used by Tarrant, hoping that the politics have evolved after a series of failed reform attempts in recent years.
The cabinet will also hear from intelligence agencies about how a self-avowed fascist legally purchased and trained to use two semi-automatic weapons, reportedly AR-15s, two shotguns and a lever-action gun without drawing the attention of the authorities.
It has also has emerged that a former soldier raised concerns about extremism at Tarrant’s gun club in Dunedin, a city 4.5 hours drive south of Christchurch where the Australian had been living.
Meanwhile after days of lockdowns, security warnings and fear, police have urged Kiwis to go back to their normal business.
When they return to work, school and hobbies on Monday however, they will find a high police presence, said commissioner Mike Bush.
‘This is for everyone’s safety, to reassure the public.’
As New Zealanders mourn those killed in horrifying gun attacks on two Christchurch mosques, a fuller picture of the 50 victims has begun to emerge.
Their tragic stories include the woman murdered trying to rescue her wheelchair-bound husband, and the massacre’s youngest reported victim — aged just three.
Husna Ahmad, 44, was killed as she rushed back in to the Al Noor mosque to save her wheelchair-bound husband. She was among at least four women murdered in the attack.
She had already exposed herself to huge danger by helping several women and children escape from the building, shepherding them out as the shooting started.
‘She was screaming ‘come this way, hurry up’, and she took many children and ladies towards a safe garden,’ husband Farid Ahmad told AFP.
‘Then she was coming back for checking about me, because I was in a wheelchair, and as she was approaching the gate she was shot. She was busy saving lives, forgetting about herself.’
Farid said he forgives the gunman, and harbours no hatred toward him.
‘The best thing is forgiveness, generosity, loving and caring, positivity.’
The Afghan who ran into gunfire
A 71-year-old Afghan man died after he reportedly ran into the line of fire to save fellow worshippers at the same Al Noor mosque.
Daoud Nabi had lived in New Zealand for more than 40 years after fleeing Afghanistan in the late 1970s, and believed his adopted home to be a ‘slice of paradise’, his son Omar told AFP.
Omar learnt his father had died trying to shield someone else from a bullet.
‘I got told by my best friend’s father... that he leaped on somebody else to save their life,’ he told news website Stuff.
‘He jumped in the firing line to save somebody else’s life and he has passed away.’
Video of the massacre shows one man gunned down as he rushes the shooter, while others flee.
The man is believed to be Naeem Rashid, from Pakistan, although his face is blurred in the footage and he has yet to be formally identified.
Both Rashid and his son died in the massacre.
‘Pakistan is proud of Mian Naeem Rashid who was martyred trying to tackle the White Supremacist terrorist & his courage will be recognised with a national award,’ prime minister Imran Khan said Sunday. ‘Mian’ is an honorific.
Rashid’s elder brother Khurshid Alam told AFP he was ‘proud’ of his sibling.
‘He could have saved his life but he preferred to save others. He was a brave guy,’ Alam said.
The attack’s youngest recorded victim, three-year-old Mucad Ibrahim was at the Al Noor mosque with his brother and father, who both survived.
His brother Abdi managed to flee the carnage while his father pretended he was dead after he was shot and managed to escape, The Age said.
Mucad was the youngest victim named on an incomplete and unconfirmed list being circulated by families of the deceased.
He was ‘energetic, playful and liked to smile and laugh a lot’, his brother, who hails from Somalia, told news website Stuff.
Sayyad Milne, 14, died at the Al Noor mosque, which he attended with his mother and friends every Friday, the New Zealand Herald reported.
His father John Milne said the boy’s death had not been officially confirmed but he had been told the teenager had been seen lying on the floor of the mosque, bleeding.
‘I’ve lost my little boy, he’s just turned 14,’ he told the paper.
‘A brave little soldier. It’s so hard... to see him just gunned down by someone who didn’t care about anyone or anything.’
The father and daughter in hospital
A four-year-old Jordanian girl is in intensive care at a specialist children’s hospital after she and her father were seriously injured in the shooting.
Alin Alsati was praying alongside her father Wasseim at the Al Noor mosque when she was shot at least three times.
The pre-schooler was airlifted to Starship children’s hospital in Auckland, the country’s top paediatric centre.
In a video filmed from his hospital bed, Wasseim asked people to ‘please pray for me and my daughter’.
He recently emigrated to New Zealand from Jordan and had just set up a barbershop.
Thirty-three-year-old goalkeeper Atta Elayyan was among the deceased.
He had played 19 A Internationals for the Futsal Whites, according to NZ Football.
Teammate Josh Margetts said: ‘There is a huge hole in our hearts as we come to terms with the loss of a great person and a good mate.’
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