NZ mosque terrorism hero: ‘We achieved what we wanted’

A supporter hug at Christchurch sentencing
Survivors hug each other at the conclusion of the sentencing of the Christchurch mosque terrorist. Image: RNZ/AFP

Warning: This story discusses details of the 15 March 2019 Christchurch mosque massacre.

A man who confronted a terrorist on the day of the New Zealand killings and again during his sentencing in the High Court says the perpetrator has got “what he deserved”.

After a four-day sentencing hearing in the High Court in Christchurch, Australian Brenton Tarrant, 29, was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole.

Justice Cameron Mander’s sentence marked the first time in this country’s history that the harshest punishment has been imposed.

READ MORE: Mosque tragedy reports on Asia Pacific Report

Many of the 98 victims who shared their impact statements in court this week had pleaded with the judge to take this course.

Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah confronted the murderer on the third day of the hearings with some taunting words in his victim impact statement.

Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah
Survivor Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah makes a point to the gunman in the High Court. Image: RNZ/John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff/Pool

He was also hailed as a hero on the day of the attacks because he challenged and chased the terrorist from the Linwood Mosque.

At the end of his statement, the judge commended him for his bravery. Abdul Aziz told RNZ Morning Report that was “a great honour” but he was focusing on “the coward” in court who had taken away so many of his fellow Muslims.

Stirring up stark memories
Facing him in court had been difficult, stirring up stark memories of seeing two elderly women and a man lying fatally shot on the ground.

“There was a lot of hate and a lot of anger but you have to control it because we have to follow the law.

“We waited for a long time for that day and we achieved what we wanted and he achieved what he deserved.”

The Muslim community will move on. “Because we don’t have any other choice, we have to move on with our lives because we cannot bring the brothers and sisters, the ones who died, back. We have no choice.”

In response to NZ First’s leader Winston Peters call for the gunman to be imprisoned in Australia, he said the terrorist was “a piece of rotten meat” that no one wanted, and it was up to the two governments.

“He held the flag of that country with hate and shame… who wants such a person back in the country?”

It was important that the killer was also found guilty of terrorism. The tragedy has helped the world see that Muslims are peaceful people, not the terrorists that they are so often portrayed, Abdul Aziz said.

‘Brave brothers and sisters’
Dr Hamimah Tuyan left her two sons in Singapore to travel to the High Court in Christchurch to speak and honour her late husband, Zekeriya – the 51st victim to die.

She told Morning Report she wrestled for some time if she should write a statement. Once she came back to Christchurch she decided she would listen to every victim statement delivered in court.

“I was just so inspired by the brave brothers and sisters – their words, their feelings. I’m just so glad that I actually wrote it and opted to read it. That was the only way I could represent my husband and my boys.”

Hamimah Tuyan (right) and Zekeriya Tuyan
Hamimah Tuyan and her late husband, Zekeriya Tuyan. Image: RNZ

She did not want to look at the gunman and was surprised to find herself smiling at him when she entered court. That set the tone for the delivery of her statement. “He was attentive… I appreciated that he looked at me and was attentive.”

After reading out her statement, she like many others, felt a weight lift from her shoulders and then left everything in the hands of God and the judge.

“We were all calm after the last session and basically waited … listening to each and every word of Judge Mander’s sentence until the end – two hours.”

The sentence left her feeling “very relieved, we prayed for this outcome and the judge handed it to him with such mana and such grace”.

Four months in writing
Aya Al-Umari, who lost her brother, Hussein, at the Al Noor Mosque, told Morning Report her impact statement was four months in the writing.

She found it almost impossible because there were no words to express the experience of having lunch with her brother one day, and then having to think of burying him the next.

She said her mother, Janna Ezat, went “off-script” to offer forgiveness to the mass killer with her address. Her mother was a superwoman, Al-Umari said, and seemed to arouse some emotion in the gunman who wiped his eye.

“What my mum said would move mountains. So I don’t want to believe he has feelings, because he didn’t have any feelings when he killed 51 of us… I think my mother’s words really echoed, really moved mountains but I’m not sure [about the gunman’s response].”

Going on the Hajj to Mecca gave her some internal peace and tranquillity and now that the sentencing is over, she is adjusting to the new family structure without her brother.

Aya Al-Umari - victim impact statement
Aya Al-Umari with her mother, Janna Ezat, standing at her side. Image: RNZ/John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff Pool

Hisham al-Zarzour, who survived the shooting at Al Noor Mosque because he was trapped under a pile of bodies, told Morning Report yesterday was a big day for all New Zealanders as well as the Muslim community.

Judgment ‘helpful for victims’
“The judgment was helpful for all the victims, especially when we know this is the first time for New Zealand… New Zealand proved to all the world this is a place for justice.”

He is grateful to Justice Mander for his thorough address before announcing the sentence. The judge had acknowledged the scale of the victims’ losses and did not believe that the terrorist felt any remorse.

“We’ll heal a little … at least we can feel we’re in a safe place.”

The terrorist had a distorted view of history, Hisham said, and in his impact statement he had tried to correct his misguided views.

Hisham Al Zarzour - victim impact statement
Hisham al-Zarzour … trapped under a pile of bodies. Image: RNZ/John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff Pool

Despite losing his wife, Husna, in the attacks, Farid Ahmed did not attend the sentencing hearing.

Immediately after the attacks he made a point of forgiving the gunman, believing that he was a victim of wrong ideas.

The gunman had spoken through his bullets and Farid did not want to hear anything new from him.

“I didn’t want to give him the false gratification of telling him how I hurt and how I suffered.”

He said he felt love for the Muslim community and he respected their decision to take part in the hearing.

Despite not attending court, he still wanted to meet the terrorist in person to talk to him about why he carried out the massacre.

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

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