Massacre victim ‘hid under dead bodies’
WARNING: Graphic content
Clad in an olive-grey prison jumpsuit, hands in his lap, Australian mass killer Brenton Tarrant sat emotionless and at times gazed at the ceiling as the details of his massacre were read aloud in the Christchurch High Court on Monday.
The four-day sentencing hearing for the 29-year-old Australian national began at the High Court in the city of his mass shooting this morning.
He initially pleaded not guilty to his offending but later changed his mind and admitted 51 charges of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one of engaging in a terrorist act laid under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.
Hands and feet shackled, Tarrant peered at several of the victims sitting in the public gallery as he was shuffled sideways into the courtroom by three towering security officers.
Tarrant confirmed to Justice Cameron Mander that he would be representing himself, before taking his seat.
With victims and their families watching from seven overflow courtrooms, plus more than 300 people in 15 different countries viewing via livestream, crown solicitor Philip Hall QC laid out the horrific events March 15, 2019 in forensic, moment-by-moment detail.
Mr Hall's voice was shaky at several points as he read through the lengthy summary of facts.
He first outlined Tarrant's preparations for the attacks on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques after arriving in New Zealand in 2017, acquiring and training in the use of high-powered firearms, for which he purchased "in excess of 7000 rounds of ammunition of various calibres".
The court heard that in the lead-up to the attacks, Tarrant obtained a large amount of information about mosques on the South Island, including detailed plans, interior pictures and prayer schedules "to ascertain when the mosques would be at their busiest".
On January 8, 2019, Tarrant travelled from Dunedin to Christchurch "to conduct reconnaissance" of the Al Noor mosque.
"The defendant took a position opposite the mosque and flew a drone directly over it," Mr Hall said. "He filmed an aerial view of the mosque grounds and building. He then flew the drone back over the mosque, in particular the exit and entry doors."
It was at this point that the Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre "became his primary targets to attack".
As Mr Hall began to describe the first gunshots of the killing spree at the Al Noor mosque - just after 1.30pm, at the beginning of Friday prayers - Tarrant crossed one leg and began tapping his fingers on his thigh.
At several points he appeared to furrow his brow as he listened, but otherwise sat expressionlessly looking on. Several times he gazed at the courtroom ceiling or turned around to look at the victims sitting behind him.
Tarrant inspected his fingernails as Mr Hall arrived at the youngest victim, three-year-old Mucad Ibrahim.
"He was clinging to his father's leg," Mr Hall said. "The defendant aimed directly at Mucad and fired two aimed shots. He walked out the front exit, as he did so he checked prone victims to ensure they had been killed."
A total of 44 people were killed at the Al Noor mosque, while a further seven were killed at the Linwood mosque.
Forty people received gunshot wounds. "Some will suffer lifelong physical effects," Mr Hall said.
In his interview with police, Tarrant "referred to his attacks as terror attacks, stated they were motivated by his ideological beliefs, and intended to instil fear in those he (referred to as) invaders", Mr Hall said.
More than 200 victim impact statements have been provided to the court.
"The presentation of the victim impact statements will be a relatively lengthy process," Justice Mander said.
Statements were read in person or pre-recorded, in some cases through a translator or by a victim support worker.
Al Noor imam Gamal Fouda said Christchurch had always been a peaceful place, and the mosque provided a place for worship, peace and tranquility.
"That all changed for me on March 15, 2019," Mr Fouda said.
"I will never forget the events of that day. I was standing on the pulpit and saw the hate of a brainwashed terrorist, formed through the media, fed by some politicians worldwide and others against different races who are non-white. Hatred makes people blind and misguides people."
Mr Fouda described the enormous pressure placed on him as a community leader in the days following the massacre, helping to identify victims, return belongings and plan burials.
"I did not even see my children for five days," he said.
"I led many of the burials for friends and people I know. I found this very difficult."
Mr Fouda said Tarrant's actions had "changed Christchurch and New Zealand", but the community "showed their love and support for us".
"This response to our community was the opposite of what the terrorist had wanted," he said. "New Zealand is seen by the world as a model of compassion, love and harmony."
He expressed sympathy for Tarrant's family. "They have lost a son, and we have lost many from within our community, too," he said.
"I respect them as they are suffering as we are. Australia is our neighbour and we are all one against hate and racism."
Addressing Tarrant, Mr Fouda said he was "misguided and misled". "We are a peaceful and loving community who did not deserve your actions," he said.
"We go to the mosque for peace and worship. Your hatred is unnecessary. If you have done anything, you have brought the world community closer with your evil actions."
'I STILL HEAR THE SHOOTING'
Muhubo Ali Jama and Abdiaziz Ali Jama, the widow and sister-in-law of victim Muse Awale, were both in the Al Noor mosque at the time of the attack.
"I was praying in the women's room when the shooting started," Muhubo said through a translator. "I hid in a cupboard with about eight other women. When the shooting stopped I went to look for my husband. I saw bodies stacked on top of one another."
Muhobo eventually found her husband lying on the ground in the carpark. "I sat down beside him and held him. I checked his eyes and heart, his breathing - there was nothing," she said.
"I was calling out for someone to come and help me, but no one came. After some time police came and told me to leave him."
Her sister Abdiaziz said she would never forget what she saw that day.
"I still have the constant sound, ra-ta, ra-ta, ra-ta, the sound of the gun shooting in my head," she said.
"I see a lot of dead people. I have been frightened and talk constantly at night. I hear noise and go outside sometimes to look for the shooter. I am unable to erase the memory from my mind."
Abdiaziz said Mr Awale was a central figure in their lives and "we are lost without him. "Muse taught us about the Koran," she said. "I miss his friendship and teaching."
'WE ARE MORE UNITED'
Khaled Alnobani was in the front rows of the main prayer room when the shooting started.
Through a translator, the Jordanian described his anguish at having to run outside.
"I saw people I know being shot," he said. "I tried to help people but I had to run. I felt very bad when I was outside, and I could here the shooting still going inside the mosque."
Mr Alnobani said he still has not returned to full-time work and struggles with everyday life.
"I'm always sad," he said. "I'm depressed, I'm frustrated that someone has taken away my happiness, I am frustrated that I have lost my friends."
In a powerful moment, Mr Alnobani switched to English at the end of his statement. "My heart is broken," he said, pointing forcefully at Tarrant.
"We are become more united - just you make that. And thank you for that."
'I THOUGHT IT WAS THE ARMY'
Afghan refugee Taj Mohammad Kamran was severely injured in the shooting and lost his best friend, fellow countryman Matiullah Safi.
Mr Kamran, who lost his house in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, said he and Mr Safi would meet every Friday for prayers at the mosque.
"He became a martyr that day," he said. "Matiullah was shot there in front of me."
Mr Kamran said at first "I was thinking that it was the police and the army shooting at the mosque that day".
"I think the shooter chose a good time to come and shoot people because I was there with all the other brothers," he said.
"I cry a lot now, the memory of the shooting is very difficult for me."
Mr Kamran said he missed his best friend. "He was like a brother to me," he said.
"We could easily talk the same Pashto language, we came from the same culture. We did a lot of things together, we would go for walks in the park, travel together for holidays - he was more to me than my best friend, he was better than having my own brother."
'BRING BACK DEATH PENALTY'
The family of local IT entrepreneur and star futsal player Atta Elayyan delivered heartbreaking statements, with his father, Mohammad Atta Ahmad Alayan, beginning by reciting the first chapter of the Koran.
Mr Alayan had swapped cars with his son that morning so he could move some things from his apartment.
"I remarked, 'Atta, please come early ... please come early before the start of the ceremony to Al Noor mosque so we can swap cars again," he said.
"The day started beautifully - there is no match for Atta's wonderful smile."
Mr Alayan, who was shot twice in the attack, said an "earthquake of magnitude nine struck the mosque" at 1.37pm.
"For three days we did not have any news on beloved Atta. Then, I collected my strength and recited the verse, 'To Allah we belong and to him we return.'"
He was taken in a wheelchair to the funeral house to see his son. "He was sitting in his casket as beautiful as an angel, with a beautiful smile on his face," he said.
Mr Alayan said his heart was "yearning for a restoration of justice for victims of heinous massacre and the reinstatement of the death penalty".
"It is a fact justice should be a balance where the seriousness of the crime should be balanced with the consequences," he said.
Mr Atta's mother, Maysoon Salama, said she could not forgive Tarrant. "You have transgressed beyond comprehension," she said.
"I can't forgive you. You gave yourself the authority to take the souls of 51 innocent people, their only crimes being Muslim. You injured 49, and shattered the dreams of so many people. You terrorised the whole of New Zealand and saddened the whole world. You killed your own humanity and I don't think the world will forgive you."
Ms Salama said Tarrant deserved "the severest punishment for your evil act in this life, and in the hereafter, we know that Allah is the most just".
Farah Kamal, Mr Elayyan's widow and mother of his young daughter Aya, said she "used to pinch myself" at how happy she was.
She said they would never get to do all the things they planned after she moved to New Zealand in 2016.
"Atta had always told me of the beauty of New Zealand and its people," she said. "I still dream of our campervan trip across the island. Now I will raise our daughter alone, and I shall keep dreaming of the time we are reunited."
Ms Kamal said she prayed her daughter would never find the "ugly, monstrous" video of the shooting.
'I SAW HIS HATRED'
Siraz Ali came face-to-face with Tarrant in the Linwood Islamic Centre, minutes after his father Ashraf Ali had been shot and killed in the Al Noor mosque.
"I looked into the eyes of the killer and saw his hatred," Mr Ali said. "For a long time I could not get this image out of my mind."
Mr Ali was inside the Linwood Avenue mosque when Tarrant opened fire. "I witnessed the death of many people and hit the ground when another man who had been shot fell onto me," he said.
"I have flashbacks seeing dead bodies lying around me, blood everywhere. The way my dad died is not just hard for me to believe but it's hard to explain."
Ashraf's widow, Abul Ali, said the couple were supposed to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this year.
"I was advised not to view my husband's face when I said goodbye to him," she said. "Sometimes I don't believe it has happened and I wait for him to come home. When I realise he is not coming home I feel sad and lonely. Friday is a difficult day for me."
Zeba Ali, Ashraf's daughter, said the "disbelief of what happened hasn't gone yet".
"On the day he died he made our favourite dish before going to the mosque because we were going there for dinner," she said. "Even in his last actions he was doing things for us."
Ms Ali said she knew racism existed in New Zealand "but not like this". "It will stay with us all our lives," she said.
"Since the shooting I've had to talk to our son about inclusion, because he came up to me and said, 'Do you know that you are brown?' Before this we never had to talk to him about being different."
'YOU ARE ALL ALONE'
Ziyaad Shah was shot three times inside the Al Noor mosque.
Originally from Cape Town, he moved to New Zealand from South Africa in 2008 to raise his children in a "safer country".
"A lot needs to be done in our country to stamp out extremism," he said.
But Mr Shah said Tarrant had failed in his mission. "I am afraid of Allah, our creator, but not man," he said.
"I have heard, felt and seen the aftermath of what he has done. I am here for a reason, and will not run away and hide. I have a loving and supporting family, friends and community - you are locked up in jail all alone."
Turkish immigrant Temel Atacocugu, who was shot nine times and seriously wounded in the left arm, jaw, chest, left thigh and lower legs, had a similar message.
"I will have permanent disability and pain as a result, however I am a strong, stubborn Turkish man who has been brought up to battle on," he said.
"In the future I will think about and be proud of all I have overcome as I walk freely in the sunshine."
Standing with his teenage sons at his side, Mr Atacocugu vividly described the horror inside the Al Noor mosque.
"The gunman and I looked into each other's eyes, I saw the moment when I was the target of his gun," he said.
"As I lay under the bodies in the mosque I thought I was going to die. I tried to lie as still as possible when the gunman came back a second time. I knew if I moved he would have executed me as he did the others. I could feel the blood and brains of the persons above me running down my face and neck."
Mr Atacocugu said he was able to call on his former military training to save his life.
"I know if I had moved I wouldn't be here today," he said.
'I FORGIVE YOU, MR TARRANT'
Hussein Al-Umari, described as a "hero" by his family, was shot and killed in the Al Noor mosque attempting to tackle Tarrant.
His mother, Janna Ezat, said she forgave her son's killer, because that was what the Koran taught.
"I decided to forgive you, Mr Tarrant, because I don't have hate," she said. "(The) damage is done and Hussein will never be here, so I have only one choice, to forgive. If we are able to forgive, forgive."
His sister Aya said Tarrant had killed her best friend and "now that you've killed him, I've turned to God", which had only strengthened her connection to Islam.
Khadir Habib, the father of aviation student Ozair Kadir, said his son was "24 years, 10 months and seven days old when we lost him".
"He had been living in New Zealand for almost a year pursuing his dream of becoming an airline pilot," he said.
Mr Habib was in Jeddah when he the shooting happened, and the family faced an agonising wait for news of Ozair.
"We were heartbroken when we saw a picture on the news of someone on a stretcher wearing the same colour jacket as one Ozair had," he said.
"He left home in pursuit of a better life. He arrived home in a coffin. He arrived home to a martyr's welcome, friends and relatives were already waiting for him. I can only hope that his last moments were not hard for him."
The sentencing continues.