NEW Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking at the parliamentary session.—AFP
NEW Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking at the parliamentary session.—AFP

CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed on Tuesday never to utter the name of the twin-mosque attacker in a bid to deprive him of the publicity he craved as she opened a sombre session of parliament with an evocative “as-salaam o alaikum” message of peace to Muslims.

“He will face the full force of the law in New Zealand,” Ms Ardern pledged to grieving Kiwis. He sought many things from his act of terror but one was notoriety, she told the assembled lawmakers about the 28-year-old white supremacist who had attacked dozens of people in the mosques in Christchurch during Friday prayers.

“That is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”

Says mosque attacker will face full force of law

“Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them.”

Dressed in black, the 38-year-old leader opened her remarks in parliament with a symbolic gesture, repeating the greeting uttered every day across the Islamic world: “as-salaam o alaikum”.

She closed her address by noting that “on Friday, it will be a week since the attack, members of the Muslim community will gather for worship on that day. Let us acknowledge their grief as they do.”

“Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh, [May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you too],” she said.

Families gather for funeral, burial

Her comments came as dozens of relatives of the deceased began arriving from across the world ahead of expected funerals which have already been delayed.

Peter Elms of New Zealand’s immigration department said 65 visas had been granted for overseas family members so far. The slow process of identification and forensic documentation has, so far, made burials impossible, augmenting families’ grief.

Javed Dadabhai, who travelled from Auckland for burial of his cousin, said the families were told that it was going to be a very slow and thorough process. Only three to four families had been invited to have a look at their family members...the ones who were easiest to recognise.

Mohammed Safi, 23, whose father Matiullah Safi, died in the Al Noor mosque attack, pleaded for officials to let him identify his father and decide a date for his burial.

Gun control

In the wake of the mass shooting, PM Ardern had promised to reform New Zealand gun laws that allowed the attacker to legally purchase the guns, including semi-automatic rifles, he had used in the attack on the mosques.

New Zealanders have already begun answering government appeals to hand in their weapons. John Hart, a farmer in the North Island district of Masterton, said it was an easy decision for him to hand in his semi-automatic and tweeted: “On the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse. We don’t need these in our country.” The tweet drew a barrage of derogatory messages, most apparently from the US where the pro-gun lobby is powerful and vociferous.

Police said they did not have data available on number of weapons handed in since Friday shootings, but added that due to heightened security and the current environment, “we would ask that people please call us first before attempting to surrender a firearm”.

PM Ardern said the proposed law changes on gun ownership would be announced by next week, hinting at a ban on some semi-automatic rifles.

“The terror attack in Christchurch... was the worst act of terrorism on our shores, it was in fact one of the worst globally in recent times,” and it exposed a range of weaknesses in gun laws, she said.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2019