Hundreds of mourners gathered in a Christchurch cemetery for the first funerals of those killed in the twin mosque massacre as New Zealanders braced for days of emotional farewells following the mass slayings last Friday.
A gunman shot and killed 50 Muslim worshippers at two Christchurch mosques in a killing spree he broadcast live on social media.
On Wednesday morning hundreds of mostly Muslim mourners gathered at a cemetery not far from Linwood Mosque, the second of the two places of worship targeted.
They hugged and embraced each other, milling under a large marquee next to rows of freshly dug graves.
Among those in attendance was Abdul Aziz, an Afghan refugee who bravely confronted the gunman at Linwood Mosque. He was hugged by many mourners.
Council officials did not release the names of who were being buried but some of those attending told AFP they had been informed two people were being laid to rest.
“After a short time for prayers, family and friends will carry the body to the grave site where it will be laid to rest,” council official Jocelyn Ritchie told reporters.
Delays in returning bodies to Muslim families
Muslims whose loved ones were gunned down have had their grief compounded by the failure of authorities to return bodies to families in time for a speedy burial, as required under Islamic custom.
Only six of the 50 victims have been returned to their families so far.
Authorities say they are doing all they can to speed up autopsies and the formal identification of those killed.
Confirming almost half of the 50 victims have now been formally identified, Police commissioner Mike Bush said the process had been slow because of the need to identify victims conclusively and to avoid hindering the prosecution.
In a briefing on Wednesday, he said he hoped a further six bodies would be returned to families by midday.
“We are doing all we can to undertake this work as quickly as possible and return the victims to their loved ones,” police said in a statement.
“While identification may seem straightforward the reality is much more complex, particularly in a situation like this.”
Confirmed victims killed in the Masjid Al Noor Mosque
- Hati Mohemmed Daoud Nabi, age 71, New Zealand citizen
- Mohsen Mohammed al Harbi, age 63, New Zealand citizen
- Kamel Moh’d Kamal Kamel Darwish, age 38, Jordanian citizen
- Junaid Ismail, age 36, New Zealand citizen
- Mucaad Ibrahim, age 3, New Zealand citizen
(Source: NZ Police)
Victims’ families gather at Christchurch from across the world
Dozens of relatives of the deceased have begun arriving from around the world, some hoping to take bodies back with them.
Of the six bodies released so far, four are expected to be repatriated overseas, council officials said.
Javed Dadabhai, who travelled from Auckland to help bury his cousin, said families and volunteers had been warned of a slow process.
“The majority of people still have not had the opportunity to see their family members,” he told AFP.
Following the mass shooting, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Ardern has promised to reform the country’s laws that allowed the gunman to legally purchase weapons used in the attack.
New Zealanders have already begun answering government appeals to hand in their weapons, including John Hart, a farmer in the North Island district of Masterton.
Hart said it was an easy decision for him to hand in his semi-automatic and tweeted: “on the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse. We don’t need these in our country.”
Until today I was one of the New Zealanders who owned a semi-automatic rifle. On the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse.
We don’t need these in our country.
— John Hart (@farmgeek) March 18, 2019
The tweet drew a barrage of derogatory messages to his Facebook account – most apparently from the US, where the pro-gun lobby is powerful.
Ardern has said details of the proposed reform will be announced by next week, but she indicated they could include gun buybacks and a ban on some semi-automatic rifles.
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