New Zealand mosque shooting victims′ families vent fury | News | DW | 25.08.2020

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New Zealand mosque shooting victims' families vent fury

Survivors and family members of victims of last year's mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques say they still have trouble sleeping, enjoying life, and providing for their families.

Survivors and relatives of the dead from the shootings at two New Zealand mosques last year described in court on Tuesday how the incident tore their lives apart. In the worst mass shooting in New Zealand's history, the gunman murdered 51 Muslim worshippers and injured dozens more during the March 2019 attack.   

Brenton Tarrant, an Australian, has pleaded guilty to 51 murder charges, 40 charges of attempted murder and one of committing a terrorist act. He faces life imprisonment, possibly without parole. Tarrant, a former gym instructor, has said he wanted to instill fear into those he described as "invaders."

Tuesday was the second day of a four-day sentencing hearing for Tarrant. The session was dedicated to allowing survivors and family members of victims to address the court, both in person and by video.

Confronting Tarrant

The hearing has given many a chance to confront Tarrant, who has shown little emotion throughout as he sits in the dock surrounded by five officers.

Christchurch mosque attacks: Sentencing hearing begins

Ambreen Naeem lost both her husband Naeem Rashid and son Talha in the rampage. Naeem Rashid was hailed as a hero and prosecutor Barnaby Hawes said he "allowed a number of other worshippers to escape" when he charged at Tarrant in Christchurch's central Al Noor mosque and partially knocked him down.

"Since my husband and son passed away I have never had a proper, normal sleep," said Naeem. "I don't think I ever will. That is why his punishment should continue forever. No one ever stopped him from going to the mosque. He was greeted with 'Hello brother' when he entered the mosque."

Raesha Ismail, who lost her brother Junaid in the attack, said the attack had only strengthened her beliefs and she was now "more open with practicing my faith in the workplace".

Read more: Opinion: One year on, New Zealand struggles to make sense of mosque attacks

Angela Armstrong, whose mother Linda died at the Linwood mosque, reminded Tarrant that, like her, he would never be able to hug his mother again. "While I have pity for your mum, I have no emotion for you. You are nothing," she said.

Rashid Omar, whose 24-year-old son Tariq was killed at the Al Noor mosque, said he'd desperately held out hope his son had survived until police and Muslim leaders read out a list of those who'd died. "My body went completely weak and everything went silent," Omar said.

He started crying with his family even though he had intended to remain strong. "As a parent, no matter how old your children are, they'll always be your baby," he said.

Harshest possible sentence

In a recorded message, Farisha Razak said Tarrant did not deserve any leniency after killing her father, Ashraf Ali, who was visiting New Zealand from Fiji.

"You made a game out of people's lives," said Razak. "You should not even be granted parole — ever."

Zuhair Darwish, who lost his brother Kamel, said Tarrant should receive the harshest possible sentence. "I know in New Zealand law they have removed the death penalty for humans, but unfortunately he's not a human," Darwish said.

In court, Tarrant is representing himself and will be allowed to speak at some point during the hearings. High Court judge Cameron Mander has powers to ensure the court is not used as a platform for extremist ideology.

The attacks targeting people praying at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques shocked New Zealand and prompted new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons. They also prompted global changes to social media protocols after the gunman live streamed his attack on Facebook, where it was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.

sri/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)