Christchurch mosque attacks: Sentencing finally offers victims a chance to look mass killer in the eyes

8:49 am on 24 August 2020

Warning: this story includes distressing details of the 15 March mosque terrorism attacks.

Those injured by bullets or whose loved ones were struck down in the mosque attacks, will today have a chance to look the man responsible straight in the eyes, and tell him how they feel.

A member of the Muslim community uses his mobile phone out side the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2020.

A member of the Muslim community uses his mobile phone outside the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, on the first anniversary of the attacks which killed 51 people. Photo: AFP

The sentencing of Brenton Tarrant on 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one of terrorism, starts today at the High Court in Christchurch.

Faisal Sayed was praying at the Linwood mosque with his father when the shooting started.

His victim impact statement dealt with the day itself and the stress it had caused him and his family.

With limited numbers allowed in court due to Covid-19, he has decided not to join the 66 victims choosing to read out their statements, in order to make way for others wanting to tell the mosque gunman directly how his actions had affected them.

"It is extremely, extremely powerful to be doing what they're doing. I have not personally lost anyone, but I've lost brothers and sisters and kids in my community. And I feel enormously, you know, hurt about the whole fact you know, and to be there witnessing the person who has done this, it's going to be hard."

Linwood Islamic Centre trustee Faisal Sayed (R) receives United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the latter's visit to the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch on May 14, 2019.

Faisal Sayed greets United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during his visit to the Linwood Islamic Centre in May 2019. Photo: AFP

Faisal Sayed will attend the first and last day of the four-day long sentencing and watch proceedings in one of the many spillover rooms provided for victims and their supporters.

He was glad the shooter's eleventh-hour guilty plea had prevented the need for a painful six-week-long trial.

"We've been longing to get this done and finished. And for us it was a moment of joy, not just personally, but I know the pain of the community, and it's not a transition that you want to prolong."

'God, I thank you I'm not crazy like him' - Farid Ahmed

Farid Ahmed, who gets about with the help of a wheelchair, sat helpless in the Al Noor Mosque as the bullets flew around him.

His wife, Husna, died trying to reach him.

Husna and Farid Ahmed

Husna and Farid Ahmed. Photo: Supplied

But he said even in the heat of that moment, he did not feel anger towards the man pulling the trigger.

"When I was listening to every sound of the bullet, it was going through my heart because every bullet was telling me another brother or sister is dead and it was very hard. But even at that time, I didn't feel angry because my thought was in another angle. I was thinking God, I thank you I'm not crazy like him."

Farid Ahmed will not be reading a victim impact statement this week. He won't be in court. He won't even be watching the hearing on the livestream that is being made available to victims in New Zealand and around the world.

He said the fact he had found it in his heart to forgive the shooter, meant he did not feel like a victim.

"Forgiveness is the best choice I had taken for myself, for my daughter. You know, within two weeks, she went to school. In three days I started writing a book. If I had chosen to go to the trial and if I had depended for my peace of mind on his actions, probably I could not have done the good things I have done."

Farid Ahmed, survivor of the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque mass shooting, speaks during a religious freedom summit at the US Department of State on July 16, 2019, in Washington, DC.

Farid Ahmed says without forgiveness he would not have achieved many good things that he has worked on since the attacks. Photo: AFP

Christchurch Muslim Tony Green said some victims he had spoken to were looking forward to facing the gunman and telling him he had not won.

"I think the enduring thing that will be there though is why, simply why? Why did you kill my wife? Why did you want to harm the child, they may want to ask? That is something that just will endure."

Green said it was beholden on everybody to make sure they used this tragedy as an opportunity to fix society and the parts of it that gave rise to violent extremism.

Tony Green, Masjid An-Nur spokesperson.

Tony Green believes many will want to know why the defendant carried out the killings. Photo: RNZ/ Eden Fusitu’a

Nour Travis managed to escape the Al Noor Mosque attack but his two best friends were killed.

The 49-year-old father of two will be following the sentencing but will not be attending in person. His victim impact statement will be read to the court on his behalf.

"We're feeling a bit anxious, we're looking forward to following this process and hoping it's going to be a good outcome for us."

When he first migrated to New Zealand from Morocco ,16 years ago, he thought this country was the safest in the world but since terrorist attacks he feels that is no longer valid. "So I always think it could happen, something like this. It doesn't mean it's going to happen just in my community, Muslims, but anybody out there ... that's my fear at the moment."

He said he believes in New Zealand's justice system and hopefully the majority will be satisfied with the outcome of the sentencing.

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