Christchurch mosque shootings: Victims recall horror of Brenton Tarrant’s alleged massacres
Up to 300 people had gathered inside Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch for Friday afternoon prayers when their peaceful worship was disturbed at 1.40pm.
The imam, Gamal Fouda, had just begun his sermon and Shihadeh Nasasrah was sitting with his friend at the front of the room when Brenton Tarrant burst in.
The Australian terrorist began firing, spraying the people gathered like sitting ducks, calmly and methodically.
Mr Nasasrah, 63, was hit twice in his leg and slumped to the ground. Two men who were shot fell on top of him.
He could feel them dying, he told the New Zealand Herald from his bed in Christchurch Hospital. He could feel their blood saturating him.
“He (the gunman) approached us and opened fire (again). Both were killed and I felt them dying,” Mr Nasasrah said. “I felt their blood. I myself was shot and I thought ‘I’m dying’.”
He waited and prayed, staying as still as he could, for several minutes. He hoped that Tarrant would stop, run out of bullets or move on.
“Every time he stopped, I thought he was gone, but he returned over and over again,” Mr Nasasrah said.
“I was afraid to leave because I didn’t know the safest way out. I died several times, not one time.”
Mr Nasasrah had been praying with his friend Abdel Fattah Qasim, 60. Both men were originally from the West Bank but had fled and settled in New Zealand in search of peace.
“Panic spread all over the place,” Mr Nasasrah said of the moment Tarrant entered.
“Some started saying Allahu Akbar (God is great). We scrambled to leave toward a second door that leads to a hall and then to the street, but the bullets brought us down.”
The imam of Al Noor mosque, Mr Fouda, told reporters on Sunday he couldn’t believe he was alive.
“He was shooting people, and we were in there (hiding). We couldn’t even breathe from the smoke and the bullets flying everywhere,” Mr Fouda said.
On the right side of the building, someone smashed a window to allow those near it to escape Tarrant’s slaughter.
“But on the left side, people, they fall on each other, and they piled on top of each other, and he was standing and aiming at them. Whenever he heard any noise coming from anywhere he would shoot towards it.”
The youngest known victim of Friday’s attack is Mucad Ibrahim. The three-year-old was with his father and older brother at the mosque.
In the rush and confusion, the three became separated from each other. Abdi, his brother, confirmed yesterday that the youngster had died.
“My mum, she’s been struggling,” he said. “Every time she sees other people crying, emotional, she just collapses.”
When he ran out of bullets, discarding his weapons one by one on the floor, Tarrant left, and those who survived the initial onslaught wondered if he had fled the scene. He had not.
“We were not able to see him (and) thank God he didn’t know where we are … he came back and started shooting again,” Mr Fouda said.
“Those people who came out from the hide he shoot them again … because we didn’t know that he was coming back.”
Sayyad Milne, a keen soccer player and student at Cashmere High School, was also killed.
His father John Milne was waiting for news of his boy’s whereabouts when family friends phoned to say they had seen his lifeless body on the floor of the mosque.
“I’ve lost my little boy” Mr Milne said. “It’s so hard … to see him just gunned down by someone who didn’t care about anyone or anything.
“I remember him as my baby who I nearly lost when he was born. Such a struggle he’s had throughout all his life. He’s been unfairly treated, but he’s risen above that and he’s very brave.”
Certain he too would be killed, Mr Nasasrah said he whispered the words that devout Muslims speak before their death: “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger.”
Adeeb Sami leapt to cover his two sons, Abdullah, 29, and Ali, 23, as the attack began and was shot twice in the back.
“My dad is a real hero,” his daughter, Heba, told the Gulf News on Saturday.
He underwent emergency surgery on Friday to remove bullets from his back, perilously close to his spine, and is recovering in Christchurch Hospital.
Atta Elayyan, a 33-year-old goalkeeper for New Zealand’s futsal team and coach of the Christchurch Boys High School team, was shot and killed.
“There is huge hole in our hearts,” Josh Margetts, NZF’s development manager, said on Sunday.
“Atta was a great man and well liked by everyone in the Futsal Whites squad and the futsal community. There are no words to sum up how we are all feeling. He will be sorely missed.”
Amjad Hamid, 57, was also killed. The cardiologist had lived in New Zealand for some 23 years and worked at Hāwera Hospital in South Taranaki.
Rosemary Clements, chief executive of the Taranaki District Health Board, paid tribute to him in a statement.
“It is with great sadness we pay our respects to Doctor Amjad Hamid, a senior medical officer and rural hospital consultant at Hāwera Hospital, Taranaki.
“He was well liked for his kindness, compassion and sense of humour. He was a hardworking doctor, deeply committed to caring for his patients and a thoughtful team member who was supportive of all staff.”
Ambulance technician Paul Bennett said what he saw inside the mosque was worse than the earthquake that devastated the city in 2011.
“There was a river of blood coming out of the mosque … It was literally flowing off terracotta tiles,” he told reporters in New Zealand.
“The scene at Deans Ave was about hatred.”
The horror inside Al Noor mosque was broadcast live to the world from a camera affixed to a helmet worn by the killer and streamed to Facebook.
Tarrant eventually left Al Noor mosque, moving on to his next target — the Linwood mosque.
As he sped towards the place of worship, Muhammad Amin Nasir and his son were on their way to the scene of the first massacre, unaware of what had happened.
The pair were 200m down the road, running late for prayer, when a car suddenly stopped next to them.
Tarrant leant out the window and pointed one of his several high-powered weapons at them and began shooting. The 67-year-old was a few paces behind his son, 35, as they ran in terror. He was shot multiple times and remains in an induced coma in hospital.
Alabi Lateef was one of those leading prayers at Linwood mosque, some 80 people gathered, where Tarrant arrived at 1.55pm and began shooting.
He heard a noise outside — someone yelling anti-Muslim slurs — and peeked through the window where he saw a figure dressed in military style clothing holding a gun.
Initially, Mr Lateef thought it might be a police officer — until he saw the bodies of the two men Tarrant had just gunned down.
“When I saw those Muslims shot dead I just told our brothers, ‘Go down! Go down! Somebody has just shot our brothers outside the masjid’,” Mr Lateef recalled.
“No one listened to me until, unfortunately, he came from behind and he shot one of our brothers (in) the head through the window. He saw him standing and shot him (through) the window. When glass got broken and the brother fell down, everyone realised to go down.”
Mr Syah’s wife Alta Marie revealed how her husband had bravely shielded their son as bullets rained down on innocent worshippers at the Linwood mosque.
Writing on Facebook, she said: “My husband shielded our son during the attack at Linwood Islamic Centre, which caused him to receive most of the bullets and much more complex injuries than our son.”
Abdul Aziz also saw Tarrant and reached for the first thing he could find. It was a credit card machine.
The 48-year-old tried to engage the terrorist in a kind of cat-and-mouse game to distract him and lead him outside. He gave chase and threw the machine.
He screamed: “Come here!”
Tarrant ran to his vehicle to get another gun. As Mr Aziz kept running towards the terrorist, he could hear his two sons, 11 and five, screaming for him to stop.
The killer opened fire again and Mr Aziz ducked, weaving between cars, and found one of the discarded weapons. He picked it up, aimed and pulled the trigger, but it was out of bullets.
“He gets into his car and I just got the gun and threw it on his window like an arrow and blasted his window,” Mr Aziz said.
It smashed Tarrant’s windshield and “that’s why he got scared”, the man, now hailed a hero, said.
Tarrant began yelling, swearing and vowing that he was going to kill the group as he sped off in his car.
He was driving erratically, which is what caught the attention of officers in a police vehicle he passed.
They gave chase, apparently ramming the car off the road, and apprehended Tarrant, bringing the bloodshed to an end.
In New Plymouth on the North Island, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was alerted to the attacks at about 2pm and cancelled her afternoon schedule of meetings and appearances.
She joined via telephone a meeting of security agencies and police that was convened in Wellington before addressing the media a few hours later and describing the barbarity as “New Zealand’s darkest day”.
She flew back to the capital for more briefings through the night.
Meanwhile, in Christchurch, police flooded the streets and specialist armed response officers — regular beat cops in New Zealand do not carry firearms — were deployed. Schools were placed in lockdown by 2.15pm.
At Christchurch Hospital, a mass casualty plan was enacted within minutes of the first report of an active shooter situation.
The precinct was locked down as ambulances began flooding the emergency department.
Police guarded every entrance as a precaution.
More than 50 people were rushed from the two mosques to a waiting team of doctors and nurses, most of them having been shot. Several died en route.
Throughout the afternoon and evening, 12 operating theatres worked back-to-back to remove bullets and try to save lives. A dozen remain in a critical condition.
Greg Robertson, chief of surgery, said yesterday his staff were feeling “horror and anger” as the gravity of the situation began to hit.
“You know, we’re all part of the community, and we’re struggling with it as much as everyone else,” Dr Robertson told reporters.
A four-year-old girl was one of the critically ill transferred on Saturday by helicopter to Auckland for specialist treatment.
“This is not something that we expected to see in our environment. We do see gunshot wounds. We do see all these type of injuries, but, you know, 40 or 50 people in a day is more than what we should see,” Dr Robertson said.
“Most people cope with things pretty well when you’re doing things. It’s when you go home and you think about it that that’s when the issues start to declare themselves.”
By 4pm, New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush had confirmed Tarrant was in custody but authorities were not yet sure if he was acting alone.
On Saturday morning, Tarrant appeared in court charged with murder — the sole perpetrator of a brutal terrorist attack that killed 50 people and injured 48 others.
— with New Zealand Herald and AP
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Originally published as Christchurch horror through victims’ eyes