Gamal Fouda gives a message to the March 15 shooter. David Williams reports from the Christchurch High Court.
Just as he did last year, when he led the country in a national call to prayer in Christchurch’s Hagley Park a week after the terrorist attack, Gamal Fouda delivered a message of love triumphing over hate. This time he gave it directly to the Australian gunman.
“I say to the terrorist, you were misguided and misled,” Fouda, 45, said in the High Court this morning for the gunman’s sentencing. “We are peaceful and a loving community, who did not deserve your actions.
“We go to the mosque for peace and worship. Your hatred is unnecessary.”
Addressing the seated gunman, who was dressed in grey, flanked by Corrections officers, Fouda said his evil actions had brought the world even closer together – the result has been the opposite of what the terrorist wanted. The world saw New Zealand for what it was – “a model of compassion, love and harmony” – while the terrorist was seen as a criminal, Fouda said.
While the terrorist’s actions will never be forgotten, the mosque’s community has grown, as has its links to Christchurch, New Zealand, and worldwide communities. He even sent a message to the family of the terrorist: “they have lost a son, and we have lost many within our community too”.
Australians and New Zealanders are “all one against hate and racism”, he said.
Many of the awful details of the March 15 terror attack are well-known. A heavily armed Australian – Brenton Harrison Tarrant – killed 51 men, women and children praying at two Christchurch mosques last year. Forty more were injured.
It could have been much worse.
The summary of facts, read in the Christchurch High Court this morning, reveal the gunman intended to burn down Masjid An-Nur and Linwood Islamic Centre after the shootings. He told police he wanted to shoot more people than he did, and, if he hadn’t been caught, had intended to attack the Ashburton mosque.
Heroes confronted gunman
Crown lawyer Barnaby Hawes mentioned the heroism of Naeem Rashid, at the An-Nur mosque. He ran at the gunman, crashing into him, despite being shot in the shoulder. The terrorist went down on one knee, and a magazine dislodged from his tactical vest.
The gunman fired at Rashid’s prone form, took a few steps, and fired three more shots, killing him. “Mr Rashid’s actions allowed a number of other worshippers to escape.”
The main prayer room contained more than 120 worshippers. Forty-four people died at An-Nur. Many of them were shot at close range, as the gunman, dressed in military-style camouflage clothing and full tactical vest, systematically checked prone figures to ensure they were dead.
Hawes said when the gunman walked back to his car, he lifted an incendiary device – one of four modified petrol containers. “But ultimately [he] left it in the rear of the vehicle.”
The racist element of the right-wing extremist’s attack was displayed as he drove to Linwood Islamic Centre.
Several times he stopped to fire at people, once “two men of African descent” standing next to two vehicles. Both vehicles sped off, after being hit by shotgun blasts. On Avonside Drive, pulling alongside a car containing Md Rahman, a Fijian man, he pulled the trigger of his shotgun, twice. Both times, the shotgun failed to fire.
However, when he saw a Caucasian male on Deans Ave, the gunman lowered the shotgun. “He gave this person a ‘sign’ of some form using his right hand and smiled at him before driving off.”
At Linwood Islamic Centre, the terrorist killed seven worshippers, and injured five others. After running out of ammunition, he dropped the weapon and ran back to the Subaru. Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah, who, earlier, avoided being shot by diving between two cars, chased the gunman up the driveway, yelling at him. “The defendant removed the bayonet from his vest and held it in his hand,” Hawes said.
But the shooter got in his car and drove away, yelling insults. Abdul Aziz threw one of the terrorist’s rifles at the car, shattering a glass panel.
The shooter’s arrest on Brougham St, after his car was rammed by police, was covered in just a few sentences. “The defendant did not offer resistance to the arrest.”
He told police his attacks were “terror attacks”.
Hawes said: “Fifty-one people were killed as a result of the attacks including women, men and children. Forty people suffered gunshot wounds ranging in severity, a significant number of whom required surgery. Some will suffer lifelong physical effects.”
* This story has been updated to correct that the defendant was not wearing leg shackles.