8 December 2023

Distressed families finally get to bury their loves ones after considerable delays in having bodies released by the Coroners office, writes David Child of Al Jazeera.

Christchurch, New Zealand – Families of the Christchurch mosque attack victims began burying their relatives five days after 50 people were killed in the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history.

At least five victims were laid to rest on Wednesday at the Memorial Park Cemetery, following the release of the bodies from the coroner’s office a day earlier. By yesterday, all the bodies were released to grieving families.

Among those buried were a 15-year-old Syrian refugee Hamza Mustafa and his father, Khalid, 44. They had just arrived in New Zealand six months before they were killed.

Hamza’s younger brother Zaid, 13, suffered gunshot wounds to the leg in the attack. He was seen being pushed around in a wheelchair during the ceremony.

Junaid Ismail, 36, and Ashraf Ali, 58, were buried in seperate ceremonies later on Wednesday. The fifth buried victim’s name could not be reported.

Many mourners lined up to help fill the graves with soil by hand as the bodies were laid to rest, with people asked to refrain from using shovels in order to ensure all those wishing to take part could do so.

The burials come after police earlier named five of the victims of Friday’s attack on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques.

Three-year-old Muccad Ibrahim was among those confirmed killed in the massacre, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has branded a “well-planned terrorist attack”.

Mourners described the emotional anguish experienced by all those at Wednesday’s ceremony.

“Everybody is grieving in a way that we can’t explain,” Gulshad Ali, who travelled from Auckland to attend the burial, told Al Jazeera. “I feel devastated, I am emotionally disturbed seeing the bodies laid down.”

Mohamed Aljibaly, an imam at the Australian Islamic Centre who travelled to attend, noted how the family fled the horrific eight-year war in Syria only to be killed in New Zealand – one of the world’s most peaceful nations.

“These were a father and a son. He was a Syrian brother and he escaped what is happening in Syria every day, and the massacres that are happening there nearly daily, to pass away in New Zealand, the place that he thought to be his new home because he was a refugee,” said Aljibaly.

Mustafa Ibrahim said he had never before attended such a solemn event.

“It just feels like we have put to rest incomplete life,” Ibrahim told Al Jazeera, citing the killing of the Syrian teen Hamza.

“I am a father, I also have a son. It’s so hard to come here and pray and bury two people. But we will come here again until all of them [the victims] are buried.”

Prime Minister Ardern said she was devastated by the news that the Mustafas from Syria had been killed when being briefed on the “atrocious” events as they unfolded on Friday.

“I cannot tell you how gutting it is to know that the family came here for safety and for refuge, and they should have been safe here… This was their home,” Ardern told Al Jazeera during a press conference at Christchurch Central police station.

The New Zealand leader earlier visited Christchurch’s Cashmere High School, where Hamza had studied. 

“I need to hear the grief, [and] I feel the grief,” she said.




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