As more buried, emotional prayer service planned

An officer stands guard in front of the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch. Photo: AP
An officer stands guard in front of the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch. Photo: AP

Thousands of people are expected to come together for an emotional Friday prayer service led by the imam of one of the two Christchurch mosques where 50 worshippers were killed.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced there will be a two-minute silence to honour the victims and the call to prayer would be broadcast on RNZ and TVNZ.

Two more of the victims were being buried today as authorities identify and release more of the dead.

Imam Gamal Fouda said he was expecting 3000 to 4000 people at tomorrow's prayer service, including many who have come from overseas to be with members of Christchurch's Muslim community and to attend funerals.

Fouda said he has been discussing plans for the prayer with city officials and lawmakers and expects it will take place in Hagley Park, a city landmark across from Al Noor mosque, where at least 42 people were killed.

Members of the Linwood mosque, where the gunman killed at least seven people, also would attend the joint prayer, he said.

One person taken to hospital later died, bringing the toll to 50. Dozens of others were injured.

Al Noor workers have been trying feverishly to repair the destruction at the mosque, Fouda said.

"They will bury the carpet," he said. "Because it is full of blood, and it's contaminated."

Fouda said that he expects the mosque to be ready to open again by next week and that some skilled workers had offered their services for free.

"The support we have been getting from New Zealand and the community has been amazing," he said.

During Friday prayers last week, Fouda had just finished the Khutbah, a sermon delivered in Arabic, and was translating it into English in when the gunman burst into the mosque and methodically gunned down worshippers.

Fouda said his sermon had been about cooperating with each other, doing good and stopping evil.

More funerals were taking place in Christchurch on Thursday. Photo: AP
More funerals were taking place in Christchurch on Thursday. Photo: AP

Two funerals today were for 14-year-old Sayyad Ahmad Milne, a Cashmere High School student known as an outgoing boy and the school's futsal goalkeeper; and Tariq Rashid Omar (24), a recent graduate of the school and beloved football coach of several youth teams. He also played during the summer.

In a post on Facebook, Christchurch United Football Club Academy Director Colin Williamson described Omar as "a beautiful human being with a tremendous heart and love for coaching."

Families of those killed had been awaiting word on when they could bury their loved ones. Police Commissioner Mike Bush said authorities have formally identified and released the remains of 21 victims. Islamic tradition calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible.

Police said Wednesday that they believe the gunman was on his way to a third mosque when officers ran him off the road and arrested him.

The Australian-born man livestreamed the attack on Facebook and said in his manifesto he planned to attack three mosques.

The 28-year-old has been charged with murder and has been remanded in custody to appear in court on April 5. Police have said they are certain he was the only gunman but were still investigating whether he had support.

MPs were today been handed a petition with more than 65,000 signatures calling on them to ban all semi-automatic weapons.

Ardern said changes to New Zealand's gun laws will be announced soon and an inquiry would look into intelligence and security services' failures to detect the risk from the attacker or his plans.

New Zealand's international spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, confirmed it had not received any relevant information or intelligence before the shootings.

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