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Refugee father, son laid to rest as burials begin in Christchurch

March 21, 2019

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CHRISTCHURCH: Mourners carry the bodies of Khalid Mustafa and his son, Hamza, for burial at the Memorial Park Cemetery here on Wednesday.—AP
CHRISTCHURCH: Mourners carry the bodies of Khalid Mustafa and his son, Hamza, for burial at the Memorial Park Cemetery here on Wednesday.—AP

CHRISTCHURCH: A Syrian refugee and his son who fled the chaos of their homeland only to meet tragedy in New Zealand were buried on Wednesday in the first funerals of victims of terrorist attacks here.

Hundreds of mostly Muslim mourners gathered at a cemetery in this city to lay to rest Khalid Mustafa and his 15-year-old son Hamza, who were among 50 people slaughtered at two mosques by an Australian white supremacist.

The pair had fled to New Zealand seeking sanctuary from the Syrian maelstrom but died in last Friday’s hail of bullets, a bitter irony that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called “gutting”.

“I cannot tell you how gutting it is to know that a family came here for safety and for refuge, and they should have been safe here,” she said at a press conference in Christchurch after the funeral.

Khalid, 44, and Hamza were shot dead at the Al Noor Mosque, the first site to be attacked, but not before Hamza called his mother in panic.

“After that I heard shooting and he screamed and after that I didn’t hear him,” she told New Zealand media this week.

New Zealand’s prime minister calls for global campaign against use of social media by terrorists

Their younger son Zaid, 13, was also wounded in the attack and attended the funeral in a wheelchair. In an emotional scene, he held his hands aloft as he prayed alongside rows of mourners.

“I shouldn’t be standing in front of you. I should be lying beside you,” Zaid said at the graves of his brother and father, according to Jamil El-Biza, who travelled from Australia for the funerals.

A total of six burials took place on Wednesday and more were expected in the days ahead after police on Tuesday began releasing victims’ remains for burial.

The scale of the attack has caused global revulsion, including alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant’s use of social media to live-stream the carnage in real-time.

Ardern, who has vowed to tighten New Zealand’s lax gun ownership laws, said on Wednesday the horrific events in Christchurch showed the need for a global approach to confront the dangers posed by extremists’ use of social media.

“There is an argument there to be made for us to take a united front on what is a global issue,” she said.

“This is not just an issue for New Zealand, the fact that social media platforms have been used to spread violence [and] material that incites violence.”

New Zealand on Wednesday charged a second person with sharing the gruesome live-stream video of the deadly attack.

Philip Arps, 44, who was arrested the day before, was charged with two counts of distributing objectionable material under the Films Act and was remanded in custody after appearing in Christchurch District Court.

A teenager appeared in court earlier this week on the same charge.

In the latest display of cross-cultural solidarity on Wednesday, when Muslims prayed and prostrated before Al Noor mosque dozens of locals silently stood behind them, their arms interlinked.

Moments earlier hundreds of people thumped their chests, stomped their feet and stuck out their tongues for a haka performance, their cries echoing across the park. Nuha Asad, who lost her husband Ali Elmadani in the massacre, watched from the sidelines, visibly moved.

“The New Zealand community really cares for us and we’re really together in this,” she said. “It made us a little happier in the grief.”

The traditional haka is used in Maori culture in a variety of ways — to intimidate rivals, to celebrate weddings but also to mourn, melding both hostility and beauty into a powerful outpouring of emotion.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2019