Scale of grave digging highlights enormity of tragedy

Members of the Islamic community have arrived with shovels to dig graves for the dead, with the scale of work being done serving as a chilling reminder of the enormity of Friday's tragedy.

Senior figures in the New Zealand Muslim community are aiming to hold one national memorial burial for the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings later this week.

There had been discussions this morning to try and release ten bodies today, the Herald has been told.

But after a meeting this afternoon, it’s been decided that no bodies will be released today.

There is a heavy police presence near the cemetery where preparations are being made to bury the...
There is a heavy police presence near the cemetery where preparations are being made to bury the dead from Friday's terror attack. Photo: Gregor Richardson

It’s likely that no bodies will be released until Wednesday or even Thursday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday hoped that all shooting victims' bodies would be returned to families by tomorrow.

Senior members of the Islamic community have told the Herald that planning is ongoing for one funeral for all of the victims.

However, one source stressed that it would ultimately be a decision made by the families.

Auckland man Ifraaz Khan. Photo: George Block
Auckland man Ifraaz Khan. Photo: George Block

Burial customs say the bodies must be laid to rest without delay.

"We are working closely with Police and the Coroner to facilitate burials,” a council spokesman said, adding that police are acting as the lead agency.

Muslim community elders have visited the site this morning, while florists vans have been coming and going all day.

At the Memorial Park Cemetery in Linwood this morning dozens of graves were being dug by earthmoving equipment.

There is a heavy armed police presence at the makeshift cemetery, which resembles a large building site. About a dozen construction workers and volunteers were involved.

Friends, family and members of the wider Islamic community have begun gathering outside the cemetery opposite the many graves still being dug.

One of those was Auckland man Ifraaz Khan, who knew several people killed in the tragedy, arrived on Saturday to help families prepare food and mourn their dead.

Mr Khan said he was drawing strength from his Islamic faith to cope.

"We come from God, we have to go back through God."

Members of the Islamic community have also arrived with shovels to assist in burying their dead.

Explosive sniffer dogs teams have been looking under vehicles near the cemetery.

Mohammed Shaheb of Auckland, whose friend, a priest in Fiji for 30 years, was killed in the attacks.

Me Saheb, who was speaking outside the Linwood cemetery where dozens of graves have been dug, said he was not allowed in to the cemetery and it remained unclear when the body of his friend will be released.

Meanwhile, the bodies of people killed in Friday's terror attacks in Christchurch have all been removed from the two mosques.

His friend recently he got residency in New Zealand and was about to settle down in Auckland.

He had been touring the South Island and went to pray in for Friday pray when he got "caught up" in the terror.

Heavy machinery is being used for the preparation of graves. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Heavy machinery is being used for the preparation of graves. Photo: Gregor Richardson

The attacks on Friday left 50 people dead and another 50 wounded.

Families want the bodies to be returned so they can be buried as quickly as possible in accordance with Muslim tradition.

Many public vigils have been held across New Zealand over the weekend, while concerts and sports games in Christchurch and other cities have been cancelled.

Dozens more police are being deployed to Christchurch and there is a heightened police presence around the country, including at mosques and community events.

Brenton Tarrant (28) has appeared in court charged with murder, police said further charges would be laid.

Ms Ardern said there would be changes to New Zealand gun laws in the wake of the massacre, and it would be discussed in today's Cabinet meeting.

- additional reporting by RNZ and NZME.

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