Police escort witnesses away from a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers, as New Zealand police warned people to stay indoors as they tried to determine if more than one gunman was involved. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

   
 
 

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  New Zealand prepares to bury mosque victims as toll hits 50

By NICK PERRY
and JULIET WILLIAMS
APNews.com

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand - Anguished relatives anxiously waited Sunday for authorities to release the remains of those who were killed in massacres at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, while police announced the death toll from the racist attacks had risen to 50.

Islamic law calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible after death, usually within 24 hours. But two days after the worst terrorist attack in the country’s modern history, relatives remained unsure when they would be able to bury their loved ones.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police were working with pathologists and coroners to release the bodies as soon as they could.

“We have to be absolutely clear on the cause of death and confirm their identity before that can happen,” he said. “But we are so aware of the cultural and religious needs. So we are doing that as quickly and as sensitively as possible.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a small number of bodies would start being released to families Sunday evening, and authorities hoped to release all the bodies by Wednesday. But by the end of Sunday night, it was not clear whether any bodies had been released.

Police said they had released a preliminary list of the victims to families, which has helped give closure to some relatives who were waiting for any news.


Ambulance staff take a man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

The scale of the tragedy and the task still ahead became clear as supporters arrived from across the country to help with the burial rituals in Christchurch and authorities sent in backhoes to dig new graves in a Muslim burial area that was newly fenced off and blocked from view with white netting.

The suspect in the shootings, 28-year-old white supremacist Brenton Harrison Tarrant, appeared in court Saturday amid strict security, shackled and wearing all-white prison garb, and showed no emotion when the judge read him one murder charge and said more would likely follow.

Tarrant had posted a jumbled 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto online before the attacks and apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast live video of the slaughter.

Ardern said the gunman had sent the manifesto to her office email about nine minutes before the attacks, although she hadn’t gotten the email directly herself. She said her office was one of about 30 recipients and had forwarded the email to parliamentary security within a couple of minutes of receiving it.


Police keep watch at a park across the road from a a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers, as New Zealand police warned people to stay indoors as they tried to determine if more than one gunman was involved. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Bush said at a news conference Sunday that they found another body at Al Noor mosque as they finished removing the victims, bringing the number of people killed there to 42. Another seven people were killed at Linwood mosque and one more person died later at Christchurch Hospital.

Thirty-four injured victims remained at Christchurch Hospital, where officials said 12 were in critical condition. And a 4-year-old girl at a children’s hospital in Auckland was also listed as critical.

Dozens of Muslim supporters gathered at a center set up for victims, families and friends across the road from the hospital, where many had flown in from around New Zealand to offer support. About two dozen men received instructions on their duties Sunday morning, which included Muslim burial customs.

Abdul Hakim, 56, of Auckland, was among many who had flown in to help.

“As soon as people die we must bury them as soon as possible,” Hakim said. “We are all here to help them in washing the body, putting them in the grave.”


In this image made from video, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives a press conference from Wellington, after the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Ardern said the values of her country would not be "shaken" by the deadly attacks that left dozens dead. (TVNZ via AP)

Bush said police had found two improvised explosive devices in one car, a clarification from an earlier statement that there were devices in multiple vehicles. He said they had disabled one and were in the process of disabling the second.

The deadliest attack occurred at the Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch at about 1:45 p.m., when 41 people were killed.

Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.

Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway, and fled. He said he then went into the mosque to try to help.

“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said. “I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”


A body lies on the footpath outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019, following a mass shooting. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)


Javed Dadabhai, who flew from Auckland after learning about the death of his 35-year-old cousin, Junaid Mortara, said the Muslim community was being patient.

“The family understands that it’s a crime scene. It’s going to be a criminal charge against the guy who’s done this, so they need to be pretty thorough,” he said.

Still, it was hard, he said, because the grieving process wouldn’t really begin until he could bury his cousin.

People across New Zealand were still trying to come to terms with the massacre that Ardern described as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

A steady stream of mourners arrived at a makeshift memorial outside the Al Noor mosque, where hundreds of flowers lay piled amid candles, balloons and notes of grief and love. As a light rain fell, people clutched each other and wept quietly.


Police escort men from a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending Friday prayers, as New Zealand police warned people to stay indoors as they tried to determine if more than one gunman was involved. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Under a nearby tree, someone had left a potted plant adorned with cut-out red paper hearts: “We wish we knew your name to write upon your heart. We wish we knew your favorite song, what makes you smile, what makes you cry. We made a heart for you. 50 hearts for 50 lives.”

The gunman livestreamed 17 minutes of the rampage at the Al Noor mosque, where he sprayed worshippers with bullets. Facebook, Twitter and Google scrambled to take down the video, which was widely available on social media for hours after the bloodbath.

The second attack took place at the Linwood mosque about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away.

Ardern has said Tarrant was a licensed gun owner who bought the five guns used in the crimes legally.

At a news conference Sunday, the prime minister reiterated her promise that there will be changes to the country’s gun laws. She said her Cabinet will discuss the policy details on Monday.

Arden used some of her strongest language yet about gun control, saying that laws need to change and “they will change.”

Neighboring Australia has virtually banned semi-automatic rifles from private ownership since a lone gunman killed 35 people with assault rifles in 1996.

Before Friday’s attack, New Zealand’s deadliest shooting in modern history took place in 1990 in the small town of Aramoana, where a gunman killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbor.

 

 

 

   
 
 

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