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Bodies of New Zealand Terror Attack to Be Released to Families

Bodies of New Zealand Terror Attack to Be Released to Families

Sunday, 17 March, 2019 - 09:45
People gather at a memorial to pay tribute to victims of the mosque attacks outside Masjid Al Noor in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
The remains of 50 worshippers slain in the twin mosque attack in New Zealand will be readied on Sunday to be released to their families, authorities said.

Coroners said they hoped to release at least one body late Sunday, allowing pious families -- anxious to fulfill Muslim burial customs -- to begin their sacred rites.

The dead span generations, aged between three and 77, according to a somber list circulated among relatives.

Some victims came from the neighborhood, others from as far afield as Egypt or Fiji. At least two of the dead -- a father and son -- came from the same family.

"It's a massacre, what else do they need to know?," said school principal Sheikh Amjad Ali, expressing frustration with the wait for loved ones' remains.

Islamic custom dictates that the dead should be buried within 24 hours, but strained authorities, desperate to make sure no mistakes are made or the complex investigation harmed, said a quick process was difficult.

"All of the deceased have had a CT scan, their fingerprints are taken, the property they were wearing or had with them is removed," said Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall, adding that dental impressions were taken and post-mortems performed.

Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern said: "The bodies of those who have died are beginning to be returned to their families from this evening." She added that all were expected to be released by Wednesday.

As New Zealanders flocked to memorial sites to lay flowers and mourn the victims, testimony emerged of epic heroism, harrowing suffering and incredible grace.

Farid Ahmad, whose 44-year-old wife Husna was killed as she rushed back into a mosque to rescue him, refused to harbor hatred toward the gunman, Australian-born, self-avowed white nationalist, Brenton Tarrant.

"I would say to him 'I love him as a person'," Ahmad told AFP.

Asked if he forgave the 28-year-old suspect, he said: "Of course. The best thing is forgiveness, generosity, loving and caring, positivity."

Husna Ahmad was among four women believed to have been killed by Tarrant, who documented his radicalization and two years of preparations in a lengthy, meandering and conspiracy-filled far-right "manifesto".

Tarrant, 28, was charged with murder on Saturday. He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5 where police said he was likely to face more charges.

Police rammed the suspect’s vehicle and arrested him as he drove away from the second mosque in the suburb of Linwood.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the man was apprehended 36 minutes after police were alerted and he was the only person charged in connection with the shootings. Three people detained earlier were not involved, he said.

Ardern said on Sunday that her office and some 30 other officials had received the document by email about nine minutes before the attack.

"It did not include a location, it did not include specific details," she said, adding that it was sent to security services within two minutes of receipt.

Authorities said 34 people remained in hospital.

Among those fighting for their lives is four-year-old Alin Alsati. The pre-schooler was praying alongside her father Waseeim at the Al Noor mosque when she was shot at least three times.

Her father, who was also shot, recently emigrated to New Zealand from Jordan.

"Please pray for me and my daughter," he pleaded in a Facebook video message from his hospital bed before undergoing surgery.

The number of dead and injured could have been higher, were it not for people like Afghan refugee Abdul Aziz.

Aziz was at the Linwood mosque with his four sons when he rushed the attacker armed with the only weapon he could find -- a hand-held credit card machine.

When Aziz heard one of his four sons cry "Daddy, please come back inside!" he picked up an empty shotgun discarded by the gunman and shouted "come on here" repeatedly in an effort to draw him away from his sons and the other worshippers.

"I just wanted to save as much lives as I could, even if I lose my life," he told AFP.

The mosque attacks have shaken this usually peaceful country, which prides itself on welcoming refugees fleeing violence or persecution.

On Monday Ardern will gather her cabinet to discuss changing the country's gun laws, hoping that the politics have evolved after a series of failed reform attempts in recent years. She said a ban on semi-automatic weapons would be considered.

“We cannot be deterred from the work that we need to do on our gun laws,” Ardern said. “They will change.”

The cabinet will also hear from intelligence agencies about how a self-avowed fascist legally purchased and trained to use two semi-automatic weapons, reportedly AR-15s, two shotguns and a lever-action gun without drawing the attention of the authorities.

Media has reported a rush to buy guns before any ban is brought in.

New Zealand has tried to tighten laws before but a strong gun lobby and culture of hunting has stymied efforts. There are an estimated 1.5 million firearms in New Zealand, which has a population of only 5 million, but it has had low levels of gun violence.

It has also has emerged that a former soldier raised concerns about extremism at Tarrant's gun club in Dunedin, a city 4.5 hours drive south of Christchurch where the Australian had been living.

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