Christchurch terror attacks: Survivor describes crush at emergency door

6:51 am on 21 May 2024
Al Noor Mosque

The inquiry is focusing on whether the emergency exit door in the main prayer room of Al Noor Mosque failed to open during the attack. File photo. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

"Someone shooting, run away guys, someone shooting." - Khaled Al-Nobani's memory of the chilling words which rang through the main prayer room of Al Noor Mosque on 15 March 2019 have been recounted in the Coroner's Court.

The inquest into the deaths of the 51 worshippers murdered during the Christchurch terror attack resumed yesterday.

Over the next fortnight Deputy Chief Coroner Brigitte Windley will hear evidence on whether the emergency exit door - known as Door D - in the main prayer room of Al Noor Mosque failed to open during the attack and, if so, why.

Al-Nobani's brief was the first evidence to be heard by the court during the resumed inquest.

"When the terrorist arrived I heard the shooting but I think it is like the light in the corridor exploded from electrical short," Al-Nobani's brief read.

However, his friend had served in the Algerian army and alerted the worshippers to true horror of what was approaching.

"He say someone shooting, run away guys, someone shooting," the brief said.

"I see the terrorist, he has come from the corridor into the main prayer room. He has army clothing. He has magazine everywhere, like bullets on his body. He has a helmet. I think he has a light on his head while he's shooting. I think I see the gun, maybe M60."

Al-Nobani witnessed his friends and fellow worshippers being gunned down around him.

The crush at the door

One worshipper smashed out a window to escape from the massacre, while others crushed for the emergency exit door.

Al-Nobani had attended Al Noor Mosque since 2013 and had been a volunteer there since moving to Christchurch in 2015.

"Prior to 15 March 2019, I had also been responsible for opening and locking the doors at the masjid before and after prayer. I had opened and closed Door D many, many times prior to the attack.

"The door being in a locked state was the only thing keeping it shut. The door was very old and it could sometimes be a little tricky to unlock, but if it was you just had to pull the door towards you a little bit and turn the lock at the same time then push it to open."

But during the terrorist's rampage, the door would not open.

"When the attack started, everyone was crowding to get out of the exits. I went to Door D," Al-Nobani's brief said.

"My friend Ahmad Alayedy was trying to break the glass on the bottom of Door D. I said something like 'Why are you doing that? Just turn the lock and open the door'. I said that because lots of people were crowding there trying to break the glass. I then tried to open the door myself and realised it did not work. I turned the lock as I always had and it would not open. I tried turning the lock both ways and it would not open.

"There were so many people crowding the door, it was too hard to get to the door to try pulling the door and turning the lock at the same time. All the people were trying to push the door. This was before anyone had been shot at that specific location."

In the days before the attack, an electro-magnetic lock was installed on the door but it was unclear if it was turned on at the time of the attack.

"I did not know the new locking system had been put in. I did not notice the button beside the door and I did not try to use it," Al-Nobani said.

Alayedy and another witness, Mohammad Siddiqui, last year told the inquest they attempted to unlock the door, then along with another worshipper, they kicked out the glass of its bottom pane and crawled out instead.

Outside the mosque

Al-Nobani said once he escaped the mosque he tried to help others, including the young son of friend who was being trampled in the panic.

"I closed his eyes to not see anything. I told him there is no problem. I told him run away."

He then attempted to help others escape the prayer room.

"I pull out one, two, three people. The third person is my friend, my neighbour, Khalid Mustafa. The terrorist is shooting him. He is shot in his head."

As he was fleeing the mosque's grounds, he saw his friend Wasseim and his young daughter approaching the mosque.

"Wasseim asks me Khaled what is happening. I tell Wasseim just run away, take your daughter. Wasseim is shocked, surprised. The terrorist came out of the main entrance. He is shooting towards me. I am jumping between the cars. The bullet came to Wasseim. Wasseim is saying Khaled help me. The terrorist is shooting [his daughter] - two bullets. The terrorist is maybe 13 metres to 15 metres away."

Al-Nobani witnessed others being gunned down, before the terrorist leaves the mosque's grounds to retrieve more ammunition.

"I see him face-to-face when he goes into the main entrance for a second time. He has gone to the main prayer room and started shooting again. I can hear some of the people saying Allahu Akbar. The terrorist wants to make sure all the people are dead. When I hear the shooting inside, I feel very guilty."

Al-Nobani retrieved his vehicle from the mosque's carpark and then used it to transport two injured victims to Christchurch Hospital.

He then returned to Deans Avenue, where others, including the wife of a friend, were trying to find out about their loved ones.

"She asked about her husband. I know that he is dead, but I tell her he is good," his brief said.

"I was in the Hagley Park opposite the mosque. I speak on the phone to my friend and flatmate from Turkey, Mustafa. I called him three times. He tells me he is shot. He told me he is in the back carpark at the mosque. I told the police my friend is shot."

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