New Zealand has ‘duty’ to support Muslims: Ardern




New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told an emotional memorial service marking two years since the Christchurch mosque attacks that the country has “a duty” to support its Muslim community.

Hundreds of people turned up for the service, held amid tight security, to remember the 51 people killed and dozens wounded when a heavily armed gunman opened fire at two mosques on March 15, 2019.

Temel Atacocugu, who was shot nine times in the face, arms and legs, wept as he recalled waiting to be treated with the father of 3-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim when they learnt the toddler had died.

“Suddenly, my pain seemed insignificant.”

Ardern, who was widely praised for the compassion shown to survivors and victims’ families, and her swift move to tighten firearm control in New Zealand, said words, “despite their healing power”, will never change what happened.

“Men, women and children… were taken in an act of terror. Words will not remove the fear that descended over the Muslim community,” she said, adding that the legacy should be “a more inclusive nation, one that stands proud of our diversity and embraces it, and if called to, defends it staunchly”.

Atacocugu said it is a miracle that he is still alive.

“I have since had seven major surgeries, and there are more to come. I will carry lots of shrapnel in my body for the rest of my life. Every time I have an X-ray, it lights up like a Christmas tree.”

Kiran Munir, whose husband, Shaheed Haroon Mahmood, was killed in the attack, told the service that the best revenge is to “not be like the enemy. We are learning to rise up again with dignity and move forward as best we can”.

The gunman, self-proclaimed white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, was arrested minutes after the attacks on Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre.

He pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one of terrorism, and was sentenced last year to life imprisonment without parole – the first time a whole life term has been handed down in New Zealand.

Last week, police arrested a 27-year-old man in Christchurch and charged him with threatening to kill following online threats to the same two mosques.

During the memorial, armed police were stationed outside the venue, and a sniffer dog checked the bags of people entering the building.

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