New Zealand holds first funerals for victims of Christchurch massacre

Our Foreign Staff
- AAP

 

A father and son who fled the civil war in Syria for "the safest country in the world" were buried before hundreds of mourners on Wednesday.

The funerals of Khalid Mustafa, 44, and Hamza Mustafa, 15, came five days after a white supremacist methodically gunned down 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch - a massacre that he broadcast live on Facebook.

Hamza’s high school principal described the student as compassionate and hardworking, and said he was an excellent horse rider who aspired to be a veterinarian.

Those present included Hamza’s younger brother, 13-year-old Zaed, who was wounded in an arm and a leg during the attack. The boy tried to stand during the ceremony but had to sit back in his wheelchair, one mourner said.

"We tried to not shake his hand, and not touch his hand or his foot, but he refused, he wanted to shake everybody’s hand, he wanted to show everyone that he appreciated them. And that’s amazing," said Jamil El-Biza, who travelled from Australia to attend the funeral.

Female mourners attend the funeral of two victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack at Memorial Park Cemetery Credit: Getty

The Mustafas had moved to New Zealand last year, after spending six years as refugees in Jordan. Mustafa’s wife, Salwa, told Radio New Zealand that when the family asked about New Zealand they were told "it’s the safest country in the world, the most wonderful country you can go ... you will start a very wonderful life there."

She added, "But it wasn’t."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the family should have been safe.

"I cannot tell you how gutting it is to know that a family came here for safety and for refuge," she said.

Families of those killed had been anxiously awaiting word on when they could bury their loved ones. Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police have now formally identified and released the remains of 21 of those killed. Islamic tradition calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible.

The burials began soon after Ms Ardern renewed her call for people to speak of the victims rather than the man who killed them.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern receives a hug from a student during her visit to Cashmere High School which lost two students during a mass shooting 

Also on Wednesday, a man accused of sharing video footage of Friday’s massacre was jailed by a judge until his next court appearance in mid-April. And Mr Bush said he believes police officers stopped the gunman on his way to a third attack.

Ms Ardern’s plea against giving the accused gunman notoriety followed his move to represent himself in court, raising concerns he would attempt to use the trial as a platform for airing his racist views.

During a visit on Wednesday to the high school Hamza and another victim attended, Ms Ardern revisited that thought and asked students not to say the attacker’s name or dwell on him.

"Look after one another, but also let New Zealand be a place where there is no tolerance for racism," she told students at Cashmere High School. "That’s something we can all do."

Another Cashmere student, 14-year-old Sayyad Milne, also died in the attack.

About 30 people wounded in the attacks remained in hospital as of Tuesday evening. About 10 of them were in critical condition, including a four-year-old girl.

Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian man, has been charged with murder and is next scheduled to appear in court on April 5. Police have said they are certain Tarrant was the only gunman but are still investigating whether he had support from others.

Ardern previously has said reforms of New Zealand’s gun laws would be announced next week and she said an inquiry would be convened to look into the intelligence and security services’ failures to detect the risk from the attacker or his plans.

New Zealand’s international spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, confirmed it had not received any relevant information or intelligence before the shootings.

Sheik Taj El-Din Hilaly, of Sydney, travelled to Christchurch to attend or lead some of the funerals. Through a translator, he said he felt compelled to support the grieving. A nationwide lockdown on mosques was imposed until Monday, which Hilaly said had upset Muslims whom he had visited in Auckland. Police continue to guard mosques across the country.

Philip Arps, 44, appeared in a Christchurch court on Wednesday on two charges of distributing the killer’s livestream video of the attack on the Al Noor mosque, the first mosque that was attacked, a violation of the country’s objectionable publications law. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Arps, heavily tattooed and dressed in a T-shirt and sweatpants, hasn’t entered a plea. He remained expressionless during the hearing, his hands clasped behind his back.

Judge Stephen O’Driscoll denied him bail.

Charging documents accuse Arps of distributing the video on Saturday, one day after the massacre.

Bush said they believe they know where the gunman was going for a third attack when officers rammed his car off the road but won’t say more because it’s an active investigation.

In a 74-page manifesto he released before the attack, Tarrant said he was going to attack two mosques in Christchurch and then one in the town of Ashburton if he made it that far.