How a hero in New Zealand mosque attack used cat-and-mouse chase, shooter's own gun to save lives

Joey Garrison

The death toll of Friday's terrorist attacks in New Zealand that killed 50 could have been higher if not for the actions of a man that witnesses and survivors are calling a hero. 

Abdul Aziz, 48, likely saved lives when he engaged the gunman in a cat-and-mouse chase outside the mosque and later grabbed one of the shooter's own guns that had been tossed to the ground.

He used that firearm to smash the windshield of the gunman's car, prompting him to speed away, Aziz and witnesses of one of the two mosque shootings at Christchurch say, according to the Associated Press and other media outlets.  

Aziz gave his account in an on-camera interview with New Zealand-based Newshub. He was at the Linwood Mosque, where eight people were killed. The shooter had arrived by vehicle from Al Noor Mosque, a couple of miles away, where he had already gunned down 41 people. Those figures were based on earlier reports before one more victim died Sunday at one of the scenes. 

"I got to be honest it wasn't me, it was God who saved everybody," Aziz said.

His actions began when the gunman arrived and advanced toward the mosque, killing those in his path. Aziz picked up a nearby credit card machine and ran outside yelling, "Come here!"

Aziz, who had four children inside the mosque, said the gunman started shooting his way and that he ducked between cars of the parking lot. His goal was to distract the shooter so others who were inside could escape.

At first, his plan didn't work. 

Abdul Aziz, survivor of mosque shooting speaks to Associated Press during an interview in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, March 16, 2019. Aziz, 48, is being hailed as a hero for preventing more deaths during Friday prayers at the Linwood mosque in Christchurch. The gunman killed 49 people after attacking two mosques in the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand’s modern history. Seven were killed at the Linwood mosque. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian) ORG XMIT: BKWS104

“I wanted him to chase me in the car park as it would save more people in the masjid, but he didn't see me probably," he said. 

He said the gunman ran back to his car to get another gun, and Aziz hurled the credit card machine at him, according to the Associated Press. He said he could hear his two youngest sons, aged 11 and 5, urging him to come back inside.

Aziz then went to the back and picked up a gun the shooter had abandoned that was next to a dead body. He squeezed the trigger but it had no bullets. 

He said he continued to see gunshots flying through the mosque, and so he yelled out, "I'm outside, come outside.'"

The gunman dropped the gun he was using, Aziz said in a separate interview with The Sun. The shooter then returned to his car for a second time to grab another loaded rifle. 

That's when Aziz said he threw the gun he had picked up "like an arrow" at the windshield of the shooter's car.

"It blasted his window, and he thought I probably shot him or something and ... he drove off and I kept chasing him," he said. Aziz said the gunman shouted expletives at him before he sped off. 

Video from another driver indicates that police officers managed to force the car from the road and drag out the suspect soon after.

Aziz, originally from Afghanistan, moved to Australia as a refugee and lived there for 25 years. He said he moved to New Zealand a couple of years ago. 

Latef Alabi, who served as the Linwood mosque's acting imam, told Newshub that he believes Aziz saved many lives by managing to keep the shooter from entering the mosque. 

"He was more than a hero," Alabi said. "I see him as a brother. I have so much belief in him, what he has done so far since he has come to New Zealand s amazing. He's done amazing work in (this) community."

"Honestly speaking, I believe he saved more lives. Because I do think if he managed to get in the mosque, we were all gone probably."

Alabi said he heard a voice outside the mosque at about 1:55 p.m., prompting him to stop the prayer he was leading to look outside a window. He saw a guy in black military-style gear and a helmet holding a large gun, and assumed it was a police officer. Then he saw two bodies and heard the gunman yelling obscenities.

“I realized this is something else. This is a killer,” he told the AP. 

Alabi yelled for the congregation to get down, and soon shots came through the window. Aziz then sprang into action and went right after the gunman.

"He managed to overpower him, and that’s how we were saved,” Alabi said. 

Aziz called the gunman, later identified as a 28-year-old white supremacist, a "coward."

"To come and kill innocent people, he is a coward, he isn't a man," Aziz said. 

"We were all praying. We weren't doing anything wrong." 

Contributing: Associated Press 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How a hero in New Zealand mosque attack used cat-and-mouse chase, shooter's own gun to save lives