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Hero of Christchurch speaks out

Nasim Saber | Naser Ahmadi
March 17, 2019

Armed only with a credit card reader, Abdul Aziz Wahabzada confronted the attacker in Christchurch. His actions are believed to have prevented further deaths. He talks to DW.

Abdul Aziz, who is being hailed for distracting and confronting the mosque shooter
Image: Reuters/E. Su

After the 28-year-old suspected far-right Australian terrorist Brenton Tarrant had allegedly killed 41 people in the Al Noor Mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, he set off for the Linwood Mosque in a nearby suburb. There, between 80 and 100 worshipers had gathered for Friday prayers. Among them was Abdul Aziz Wahabzada.

The Afghan-born Wahabzada moved to New Zealand two and a half years ago after living in Australia for 27 years. He runs a store selling furniture and household goods.

The 48-year-old told DW in an exclusive interview that he recalls acting very fast on March 15: "We had just said the first part of Friday prayers. Then we heard gunshots. We thought someone was playing with firecrackers and kept on praying. But a brother from the first row called out that our Muslim brothers and sisters were being shot down outside."

Read more: Christchurch terror attacks: What you need to know

Suspected attacker between two policemen in court
The attacker has been charged with murderImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Mitchell

Emergency self-defense

At the time, Wahabzada was near the entrance. He ran outside, armed with the first thing he could lay his hands on to defend himself with: a credit-card reader.

"I saw a car parked outside blocking the driveway. There was a man wearing military headgear standing near his car. I asked him, 'Who are you?' He looked at me and started swearing," he told DW.

At that moment, the attacker was briefly unarmed. After his shooting spree in the Al Noor Mosque, he had already killed several people in Linwood as well and was about to pull another weapon from his car.

"The shotgun he had used before held only three or four rounds. He had already killed three people with it, then threw it away. In his car, there were more automatic weapons. He wanted to grab another gun to continue his attack from the Al Noor Mosque."

When Wahabzada saw that the man was not a member of the military but a gunman with apparent terrorist intentions, he threw the credit card reader at the attacker. But the gunman managed to duck out of the way, took out an automatic assault rifle and began shooting at Wahabzada, who, however, was able to shelter behind parked cars. Then his son called him to come back into the mosque. But Wahabzada told his son to go away and wait for him. He then grabbed the attacker's shotgun, which was lying next to a dead body, and pulled the trigger. But there was no ammunition in the gun.

Read more: Grief and shock, but 'still home' in Christchurch the day after terror attacks

Flowers left near the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch
The attacks have triggered a wave of solidarity with New Zealand's Muslim minorityImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Tsikas

Trying to prevent deaths

Without hesitating, he called to the attacker: "Come over here. I'm here." He said he wanted to attract the gunman's attention to protect the worshippers in the mosque and prevent more people from dying. But this did not succeed at first. The attacker had already entered the mosque and opened fire. Wahazada followed the gunman, but the latter ran out of the mosque again to get more weapons and ammunition.

He shot at Wahabzada, before throwing the weapon aside and getting in the driver's seat of his car. Wahabzada took the empty shotgun he still had and threw it at the attacker. The car's windshield shattered and the attacker was obviously frightened. Wahabzada thinks he probably thought someone was shooting at his car. The attacker drove off while Wahabzada ran after him. But the car turned a corner and the gunman got away.

Wahabzada went back into the mosque and saw that a large number of women and men had been killed, and that many others were injured. He says that he felt no fear at that moment because he wanted to prevent more injuries or deaths. Among those in the mosque were four of his children, aged between five and 24, and his wife, along with dozens of other people.

"I wasn't afraid. A person doesn't have to be afraid of other people. I am in awe only of my creator. So I managed to show the attacker that we weren't scared of him. Instead, he was scared of us. That's why he fled, even though I ran after him with nothing in my hands."

Christchurch mourns

No desire to be a hero

Terroranschlag Christchurch Abdul Aziz
Wahabzada does not consider himself a heroImage: AFP/Getty Images/A. Wallace

Worshippers in the mosque, along with international media, have described Wahabzada as a hero. But in his opinion, any person "who still has human feeling" would have done the same. He says his actions were called for by his Islamic faith and by humanity. By doing what he did, Wahabzada possibly prevented further attacks, because two police officers noticed the attacker's car because of its shattered windshield. They stopped him and arrested him.

The attacks on Friday in Christchurch claimed 50 lives. Thirty-four more people are still being treated in hospital. The victims were between three and 77 years old. Wahabzada was not the only hero of Christchurch: the 71-year-old Afghan man Daud Nabi also confronted the gunman, but tragically lost his life doing so.Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Mosque shooting toll rises to 50