National remembrance service marks second anniversary of Christchurch mosque attacks

About 1000 people have gathered at a national remembrance service to mark the second anniversary of the deadly Christchurch mosque attacks.
Ko Ttou, Ttou, We Are One has concluded at the Christchurch Arena and included an address from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Police and the Armed Offenders Squad was stationed outside the arena as a precaution, while a sniffer dog went through bags of people as they prepare to enter the arena.

The National Remembrance Service began with an address from master of ceremonies Julian Wilcox and a mihi from Ngi Tahu's Dr Te Maire Tau.

Joseph Johnson/Stuff
The National remembrance service 2021, two years after March 15 terror attack involving The Masjid Al Noor Mosque in Deans Ave, and the Linwwod Mosque.

Lianne Dalziel: A seed of understanding is planted each time a story is shared

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel welcomed those in attendance, acknowledging the families and friends of the 51 people killed as a result of the terror attack."You and they are in our hearts forever," she said.

* Bereaved Muslim families to be joined by PM at national memorial service
* The anniversary of the Christchurch terror attack reminds us of our shared humanity
* Coronavirus: March 15 terror attack remembrance event cancelled

She also acknowledged those who were injured on that day and "everyone who was traumatised by what they saw and experienced".

"I thank those who have shared their stories. I know how painful that can be. However, a seed of understanding is planted each time such a story is shared. And it is with understanding that we see that differences sometimes mask all that we have in common.

Mark Tantrum/Getty Images
Dame Patsy Reddy and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrive at the Christchurch mosque attack memorial at Christchurch Arena.

And it is all that we have in common - our shared humanity - that brings us together in times of need and again today."

The remembrance service was also an opportunity to thank the first responders, emergency response teams, paramedics and hospital teams, along with the bystanders, passers-by and neighbours who stepped in to help save lives.

"It has been heart-warming to hear stories of lasting friendships forged in the hours and days after the attacks. No longer strangers, we are neighbours in the true sense of the word," she said.

"We can all be proud of how we responded and how we supported each other with kindness and compassion. And although March 15, 2019 will always be a day when we can instantly recall where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news of the attack, it is for the outpouring of support that our city will be forever remembered."

A waita, Manu Makamutu, was then peformed by students at Cashmere High School to lament those who passed. Seven people, including three students, associated with the school were killed or injured in the attack including Hamza Mustafa (16), his father Khaled Mustafa and Sayyad Milne (14). Former student Tariq Omar (24) also died in the attack.

The names of the 51 men, women and children killed will be read out by members of their bereaved families and a minutes silence will be observed.

The National Remembrance Service is held at the Christchurch Arena.

Dr Kiran Munir: He was the love of my life and always will be

Dr Kiran Munir, whose husband and father of her two children, Haroon Mahmood died in the Masjid An-Nur, delivered an address on behalf of the bereaved families.

"Two years have passed by today. We gather here to remember the 51 beautiful souls who departed this world."

Munir felt "honoured" to stand before those gathered to speak on behalf of the victims' families.

"I Dr Kiran Munir am the proud wife of Haroon Mahmood a well educated, honourable and fine man. He was the love of my life and will always be. My husband of 13 years and my extraordinary soul mate. Best friend of 20 years, my shelter, my safe place."

Her final goodbye with Mahmood still echoes in her mind.

"Little did I know the next time I would see him the body and soul would not be together. Little did I know the darkest day in New Zealand's history had dawned. That day my heart broke in hundreds of pieces just like the families of 51 others. My kids and I felt our lives were meaningless after losing a wonderful husband and father."

A portrait of remembrance honouring those who died was then displayed followed by the reading of the names of the 51 people killed. Name readers included members of bereaved families, supported on stage by Christchurch faith leaders and first responders.

Maha Elmadani during the National Remembrance Service held at the Christchurch Arena.

Maha Elmadani: When he left this world, so too did his light

Maha Elmadani, who lost her father, retired engineer, Ali Mah'd Elmadani, 66, spoke on behalf of the affected Muslim youth.

"Two years ago 51 innocent lives were taken without mercy at the hands of a coward. Their crime was their faith, their crime was calling this beautiful city home. The pain of losing these 51 lives not only impacted the people of Christchurch, the pain ripped through New Zealand and the rest of the world and continues to be felt."

Those killed were loving fathers, mothers, brothers and sons.

"They had so much to give to this land, they were proud Kiwis and we were blessed to have them in our lives."

When her father died he took with him a part of her soul, she said. "When he spoke, everyone listened. He was my teacher, my anchor my source of truth. When he left this world so too did the light, his death has left behind a heartache that can never be healed and an emptiness that can never be filled."

Temel Atacocugu breaks down during his speech at the National Remembrance Service held at the Christchurch Arena.

Temel Atacocugu: The longest, hardest path Ive ever taken

Temel Atacocugu, who was shot nine times in the face, arms and legs, delivered an address on behalf of the injured. He said March 15 was the day that "marked history with a dark stain".

"51 martyrs, 40 injured and hundreds traumatised." He said the victims were "proud Cantabrians and New Zealanders they are us." He then described how he experienced firsthand the "savagery of that day".

"It is a miracle I am alive. I was shot nine times. Four bullets in my left leg, one in my right leg, three in left arm another one in my mouth."

He had since had several major surgeries with more to come. "Every time I have an X-ray it lights up like a Christmas tree. Despite rehabilitation my left arm is permanently disabled like so many others. Many of my wounds will never fully heal."

On March 15 he managed to get out of the Masjid An-Nur with his friend. "The 200m walk to the ambulance was the longest, hardest path I have ever taken. I sat on the ground beside an ambulance ... my body filled with pain and fear. I kept thinking of my two sons, my mother, my siblings and all the people I love." He cried as he recalled the moment the father of Mucaad Ibrhaim, 3, was told he had died.

"Suddenly my pain seemed insignificant".

Joseph Johnson/Stuff
The service, held at the Christchurch Arena, included Karanga, mihi whatatau, waiata (Cashmere High School), Muslim invocation, and an audio-visual portrait to honour the deceased.

He thanked those who helped them that day, bystanders, paramedics, emergency services staff.

Faisal Sayed, who lost one of his friends in the attack while another was hospitalised, spoke on behalf of other victims and the Muslim community. He said his young daughter gave him the strength to get through.

"Every time she said papa and she rested her forehead on my chest, I had a reason to smile and I had the strength. I have got big dreams for my daughter, I secretly want her to be the prime minister of New Zealand, but that does not matter. What really matters will she be able to shine without questions about her faith, religion and values."

He thanked Ardern for acting as a figure who kept the community together. "You changed people's hearts."

This was followed by a Dua by Masjid An Nur (Al Noor Mosque) Imam Gamal Fouda.

"We gather here today at a time of great challenge for our nation and indeed the world. Two years ago our lives were changed forever, no-one could have imagined that this terror attack would've ever happened in New Zealand.

We all thought New Zealand was safe. But over the past two years we have shown that New Zealand is still unbreakable. And that the world has seen in us an example of love and unity. We are here today to reconfirm the same message of love and unity. We are together, we are one.

Reading of the names of the people who lost their lives by Zahra Omar and Sara Qasem.

PM: Words have the power to heal

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday was two years since 51 New Zealander's lives were taken "in the most tragic and horrific way".

Ardern said as she tried to prepare words to say at the service she was "at a loss".

"Much has been said, but words, despite their healing power will never change what happened that day. Words will not bring back those men women and children who gathered at their place of worship, quietly and peacefully when they were taken in an act of terror.

Words will not take away the trauma that families, those who were injured, first responders, passersby who became rescuers and so many others experienced that day. But while words cannot perform miracles they do have a power to heal. That means we must use them wisely."

She said anyone who assumed that before that day the Muslim community had not experienced hatred and racism would be "very wrong". After the attacks she heard stories of women frequently harassed because they were easily recognisable as Muslim. She said the "horrible and dehumanising" stories were so common, some gave up doing about it.

Planning ahead

Canterbury district commander Superintendent John Price said there had been extensive planning for several months leading up to the memorial service. Planning included an intelligence phase across partner agencies, a reassurance and prevention phase and policing the venue.

Police had done a sweep through the venue checking it was safe several times prior to Saturday. There would also be a police presence at the venue for the memorial, as well as staff looking after VIPs. Staff would also be stationed at the mosques and at routes to and from the venue.

"Our Muslim community were the subject of a horrendous event, for me it's always been about making sure that we put them at the very centre of everything we're doing. For today, that's their safety, their ability to gather, remember with the wider Canterbury community and others that have come from out of town is what's key.

"The primary thing I want is for them to be able to have the time as a community to gather and remember. That's really important."

Looking back at March 15, 2019, Price said he could not have been more proud of the way police responded to the attack.

As police you come to work to protect your community, and you almost have like a guardianship so when someone comes in and rips at the heart of your community it's really hard to deal with because you feel as though you haven't been able to protect the community the way you'd want to.

"The response of the community, the response of police, the response of the wider community in creating that sense of unity actually enabled us to be able to operate a lot more effectively."

Muslim community praying during the Call to prayer and peace vigil, held in North Hagley Park outside the Masjid Al Noor Mosque in Deans Avenue in memory of the mosque shootings at both the Masjid Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Mosque.

Million-dollar support package not enough

The minister responsible for the NZSIS and GCSB, Andrew Little, says the Government isnt considering additional support other than what's already available for victims and their families of the mosque attacks.

Little was asked on Newshubs The Nation on Saturday morning why bespoke packages weren't set up for victims as had happened in other countries.

"We need to make sure that those who particularly are still suffering trauma, and will for some time, are getting the psycho-social support that they need, but we're not looking at any particular compensation package. Those who are entitled to ACC would have got it, those who are entitled to other psycho-social support would have got it, and will continue to get it, but we're not looking at any other form of compensation," he said.

On Friday March 12 the Government promised $1 million to help Muslims scrutinise its response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the massacre.

Leaders of the Muslim community told The Nation that kind of contribution was not enough and the Government should be supporting community moves to create a compensation package.

Aliya Danzeisen of the Islamic Women's Council New Zealand said $1 million amounted to around a cup of coffee for each anggota of the community for each of the three years.

She said the departments that allowed the attack to happen needed to be held accountable and the Muslim people affected should be supported and compensated.

"The SIS and the Government are supposed to protect us as a community, and they did not do that. We want people who weren't able to lead these agencies to step off...if they're not moving on, push them on."

Danzeisen said those people affected by the shootings should be stabilised back to as close as possible to what their situation prior to the event.

"The Royal Commission made two recommendations that said they [the Government] needed to have discussions with the families and find a way to rehabilitate and repair them.

"If they are going to meet the recommendations, they'll be fronting up, and they'll be doing some compensation."


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