Leaders and worshippers escorted through cordon by police as life begins to return to normal
Muslim community leaders and worshippers have been escorted back to one of two mosques targeted in the New Zealand terror attack, Agencies report.
Two groups were taken through the cordon to Masjid Al Noor on Saturday morning, accompanied by a delegation of dignitaries. They received a briefing from officers on the street before being led to the front door where the shooting rampage that killed 50 began.
When the gates opened, worshippers were let in 15 people at a time. Shortly after 1pm, Imran Sheik walked through the gates. He had come down from Auckland a week earlier, after hearing a family member was one of 50 people killed. That relative, Ashraf Ali, was 62 and had been living in Christchurch for the past 20 years. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard. It is just very sad.” Ali attended the burial and memorial services.Advertisement
Imran walked through the doors of the mosque and into a hallway of fresh white paint. He looked around at signs telling those present to be quiet, to avoid talking. This was a place of peace.
The only sign that something terrible had taken place was the carpet. There was none, only freshly laid underlay.
Imran got goose bumps. Then he knelt down prayed.
“I could feel it, you know,” he told the Guardian. “I could feel what went on there.”
But after praying he felt like something had been lifted. “It was marvellous. I am relieved.”
Outside the mosque when the cordon was lifted, was a survivor of the attack, standing among the flowers and messages of support laid at the front entrance. Huzef Vohra said he only survived after being buried under bodies of his fellow worshippers.
“It could have been us easily. I could feel the bullets in the person in front of me. It missed my head. It missed my chest. It missed my leg.” Whenever a mobile phone went off, the attacker would turn his gun on its owner, Vohra said.
He had left his own phone at work that day.
Vohra was at the mosque on Saturday to pick up the car of his friend who was killed. There were five others he was close with. “I’ve lost my whole circle. Like 80% of my friends.”
As soon as he knew the gunman had gone, he tried to help those who had been shot. “What could you do? Only you could help the ones who were alive.” Then the challenge became putting to rest those whose families were overseas. “I had to stay strong.”
Huzef said everybody from the mosque wanted to get back in there – it was important to the community. “[They] want to start getting into prayers again.”
On Saturday, in the park opposite the mosque, people continued to lay flowers while junior cricketers cheered in a sign the community is returning to normal.
During a memorial service in nearby Hagley Park on Friday to mark one week since the attack, the Al Noor imam, Gamal Fouda, reflected on the hatred and rage he saw in the killer’s eyes.
Thousands gathered to support the community in their Friday prayers and he saw their love reflecting back. “We are broken-hearted but we are not broken,” he said. “We are alive, we are together, we are determined not to let anyone divide us.”
A terrorist sought to tear the nation apart with evil ideology but New Zealandshowed itself to the world as an example of love and unity, Fouda said.
“Today, from the same place, I look out and I see the love and compassion in the eyes of thousands of fellow New Zealanders and human beings from across the globe that fill the hearts of millions more who are not with us physically, but in spirit,” he said.
Fouda’s words were met with prayers and applause from the community and the Muslims who were there to pray on the most sacred day of the week in Islam.
Survivors attended, including 13-year-old Zaid Mustafa who took his place in the front row two days after the burial of his father, Khaled, and older brother Hamza, 15.
Following the memorial more than 5,000 people made their way to the Memorial Park cemetery for the mass burial of 26 mosque victims and another man who died returning to his Dunedin home after mourning his uncle’s death with family.
The last of the Christchurch burials, the goodbyes included the youngest victim, three-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim, new father Ramiz Vohra, 28, and his father Arif, 58.
A weekon, more of the injured are being released from hospital, though 27 remain there including five critical in intensive care. A four-year-old girl remains critical in Auckland’s children’s hospital.
The 28-year-old man charged with murder over the attack used two semi-automatic rifles that were legally bought. From 3pm on Thursday such weapons became illegal under interim measures, until legislation is expected to be introduced by 11 April.
Police received more than 1,000 online notifications from gun owners surrendering weapons on Friday, and a dedicated hotline received 474 calls within 15 hours of the announcement.