Men abused worshipper before Al Noor Mosque terrorist attack, inquest hears

8:23 pm on 21 May 2024
24th October 2023 Iain McGregor/The Press/Pool
Christchurch Masjidain Attack Coronial hearing.
Al Noor Mosque Imam Gamal Fouda.

Imam Gamal Fouda gives evidence to the coronial hearing last October. Photo: Pool / Iain McGregor / The Press

A worshipper at Al Noor Mosque was trapped in a room and verbally abused before the Christchurch terror attacks.

The inquest into the deaths of the 51 worshippers murdered on 15 March 2019 was this morning played an audio recording of Imam Gamal Fouda which detailed the incident.

Gamal Fouda described how two people came to the mosque and verbally abused a worshipper.

"They were saying 'go back to your country' and they were very rude. They locked [the worshipper] in the kitchen and shouted at him," Fouda said.

It was reported to police.

"We report it that they are dangerous with the police and the police kept saying they can't do nothing and if they come back just ask them to leave."

A volunteer at the mosque, who cannot be identified, had been giving evidence to the inquest this morning.

The recording was played to him during questioning from Wendy Aldred, the counsel assisting the coroner.

The witness said he remembered the two men were drunk and came into the mosque on a weekend night.

He could not recall if they broke into the mosque or just walked in.

Later, during questioning from another lawyer, the witness said such verbal abuse, directed at the Muslim community, "happens all the time".

Door at Al Noor Mosque

The emergency door. Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Justice

Deputy Chief Coroner Brigitte Windley was hearing evidence on an emergency door in the mosque's main prayer room which failed to open during the attack.

Why the door failed to open and the regulatory regime surrounding emergency exits are being scrutinised during the two-week hearing.

The door's failure to open potentially contributed to the deaths of 11 people.

Fouda's statement included a claim that the emergency exit door in Al Noor Mosque's main prayer room was damaged during a robbery.

"He [the offender] actually broke the door that didn't open [on 15 March 2019], so he used probably leverage to open the door and the frame got bent and when the police came, they suggested this lock is easy to be opened from outside with a screwdriver, so they need to replace it," Fouda said.

"I reported it to the management and this is how they probably started fixing the door."

The inquest yesterday saw photos which demonstrated damage to the lock's strike plate.

The inquest also heard the door was old and a mechanical lock, which kept it shut, could be a "little tricky" to operate.

When the gunman entered Al Noor Mosque, worshippers rushed for the door but could not open the lock and as a result, the glass in the bottom pane was smashed and some worshippers crawled out.

The inquest on Tuesday afternoon heard from another worshipper who was present during the terrorist's rampage.

"A few minutes into the sermon I heard a loud bang, I thought it was just a neon light bulb that blew. After the second bang I saw people moving away from the main entrance leading into the room. People started screaming and yelling and shouting 'Allahu Akbar', which means 'God is the greatest'," he said.

The man recalled a stampede of people against the door trying to escape.

"There were people on the ground and people on top of each other, all trying to get out ... I ran and jumped over people and used the door frame to haul myself through."

The mosque volunteer told the inquest the exit door that failed to open during the attack had been generally finicky to operate.

"The door was no longer square with the door frame, to turn the lock you first had to pull the door towards you. If you did not pull it towards you, the lock could not be turned," he said.

Counsel assisting the coroner Wendy Aldred questioned him about this.

"Do you agree it would be counterintuitive for someone opening the door who wasn't used to it to have to pull it in first, given that the door opened outwards?" she asked.

"Yes I would say that's the case," the man replied.

"That would be particularly if the person was in a stressful situation trying to escape from the building in an emergency?" Aldred put to him.

"One hundred percent yes," the man said.

The man spoke of long-standing maintenance issues at Al Noor Mosque prior to the attack

He said new electromagnetic door locks - that were purchased on the website AliExpress - had been installed in the week of 15 March, but that they were not activated on the day of the attack.

He told the coroner his view on why the emergency door failed to open was that it was due to sheer stress people were under.

"That door was already sticky and it was not great mechanically... to be in such a heightened situation where even rationally is under question... Their minds just told them to break the window at the bottom. I think even if they had the rationale they still wouldn't have been able to do it, because the scenes I saw inside the mosque as I was running away - some people were paralysed from fear, they were sitting in a close proximity to the door and they were getting stampeded on. So, even if someone was able to put their hand on the handle and pull it towards them I don't think they had enough force to do it," he said.

"The state of that door wasn't suited for the exceptional situation that happened."

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