Father and son who fled Syria buried in New Zealand after mosque shooting

A father and son who fled the civil war in Syria for "the safest country in the world" were buried before hundreds of mourners on Wednesday local time, the first two funerals for victims of shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that horrified a nation known for being welcoming and diverse.

The funerals of Khalid Mustafa, 44, and Hamza Mustafa, 15, came five days after a white supremacist methodically gunned down 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch — a massacre that he broadcast live on Facebook.

Hamza's high school principal described the student as compassionate and hard-working, and said he was an excellent horse rider who aspired to be a veterinarian.

Those present included Hamza's younger brother, 13-year-old Zaed, who was wounded in an arm and a leg. The boy tried to stand during the ceremony but had to sit back into his wheelchair, one mourner said.

"We tried to not shake his hand, and not touch his hand or his foot but he refused, he wanted to shake everybody's hand, he wanted to show everyone that he appreciated them. And that's amazing," said Jamil El-Biza, who travelled from Australia to attend the funeral. 

The Mustafas had moved to New Zealand last year, after spending six years as refugees in Jordan. Mustafa's wife, Salwa, told Radio New Zealand that when the family asked about New Zealand they were told "it's the safest country in the world, the most wonderful country you can go … you will start a very wonderful life there."

She added: "But it wasn't."

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


The burials got underway shortly after the country's prime minister renewed her call to remember the victims rather than the Australian gunman accused of slaughtering them.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's plea not to give any notoriety to the accused 28-years-old Australian white supremacist first came in a speech to Parliament prompted by the accused gunman's decision to dismiss his lawyer and represent himself. The move had raised concerns he would use the trial as a platform for his racist views.

During a visit to Hamza's high school on Wednesday, Ardern revisited that thought and asked students not to say the attacker's name or dwell on him.

"Look after one another but also let New Zealand be a place where there is no tolerance for racism," she told students at Cashmere High School. "That's something we can all do."

Another Cashmere student, 14-year-old Sayyad Milne, also died in the attack.

As of Tuesday evening, 30 people were still being treated at the hospital, nine of them in critical condition, medical officials said. A four-year-old girl was transferred to a hospital in Auckland and is in critical condition. Her father is at the same hospital in stable condition.

'It is horrendous'

The shooter's desire for attention was made clear in a manifesto sent to Ardern's office and others minutes before Friday's massacre and by his livestreamed footage of his attack on the Al-Noor mosque.

The video prompted widespread revulsion and condemnation. Facebook said it removed 1.5 million versions of the video during the first 24 hours, but Ardern expressed frustration that the footage remained online, four days later.

Zaed Mustafa, in wheelchair, brother of Hamza and son of Khalid Mustafa killed in the Friday March 15 mosque shootings, reacts during the burial. (Mark Baker/Associated Press)

"We have been in contact with Facebook; they have given us updates on their efforts to have it removed, but as I say, it's our view that it cannot — should not — be distributed, available, able to be viewed," Ardern said.

"It is horrendous and while they've given us those assurances, ultimately the responsibility does sit with them."

Ardern said she had received "some communication" from Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on the issue. The prime minister has also spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May about the importance of a global effort to clamp down on the distribution of such material.

Lawyer Richard Peters, who was assigned to represent Brenton Harrison Tarrant at his initial court appearance on Saturday, told the New Zealand Herald that Tarrant dismissed him that day.

A judge ordered Tarrant to return to New Zealand's High Court on April 5 for his next hearing on one count of murder, though he is expected to face additional charges. The 28-year-old Australian is being held in isolation in a Christchurch jail.

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