Tag Archives: Mosque

Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia opens as mosque for Muslim prayers amid international criticism

Fulfilling a dream of his Islamic-oriented youth, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined hundreds of worshipers Friday for the first Muslim prayers in 86 years inside Hagia Sophia, the Istanbul landmark that served as one of Christendom’s most significant cathedrals, a mosque and a museum before its conversion back into a Muslim place of worship.

Thousands of other Muslim faithful came from across Turkey and quickly filled specially designated areas outside of the Byzantine-era monument to join in the inaugural prayers. Many others were turned away, while Orthodox Christian church leaders in Greece and the United States announced a “day of mourning” over Hagia Sophia’s return as a mosque.

The prayers began with Erdogan reciting from the Qur’an. The head of Turkey’s religious authority, Ali Erbas, led the ceremony and prayed that Muslims would never again be “denied” the right to worship at the internationally celebrated sixth century structure.

As many as many as 350,000 people took part in Friday’s prayers, the president said.

Adem Yilmaz, who attended the prayers, expressed joy at experiencing “the making of history.”

“This turned into a place where all hearts beat at once,” he said.

Brushing aside international criticism, Erdogan issued a decree restoring the iconic building as a mosque earlier this month, shortly after a Turkish high court ruled that the Hagia Sophia had been illegally made into a museum more than eight decades ago.


A person draped in a Turkish flag stands as people walk inside the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia following the inaugural Friday prayers in Istanbul. (Yasin Akgul/The Associated Press)

The structure, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has since been renamed “The Grand Hagia Sophia Mosque.”

The move sparked dismay in Greece, the United States and among Christian church leaders who had called on Erdogan to maintain Hagia Sophia as a museum in recognition of Istanbul’s multi-faith heritage and the structure’s status as a symbol of Christian and Muslim unity.

‘Greatest dream of our youth’

The reopening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque threatens to deepen Turkey’s isolation on the world stage following its military interventions in Syria and Iraq and amid international disputes over oil-and-gas rights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The decision was in line with Erdogan’s ambitions to raise Islam’s profile in Turkey and to make his country a leader nation in the Islamic world.

Hagia Sophia’s re-emergence as a mosque is also being interpreted as a move aimed at consolidating Erdogan’s conservative and religious support base at a time when his popularity is sagging amid an economic downturn.


Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan attends Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. (Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Handout via Reuters)

“It allows him to switch the narrative away from the economy to the culture wars, an area where he did well in the past by mobilizing his right-wing base,” said Soner Cagaptay, Turkey analyst for the Washington Institute and author of Erdogan’s Empire.

By transforming Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. Erdogan may also be seeking to leave “his permanent imprint” on Istanbul — the city of his birth and where he served as mayor, Cagaptay added.

Built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537, Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque with the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Istanbul. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding leader of the secular Turkish republic converted the structure into a museum in 1934.


People pray outside near the Hagia Sophia on Friday. (Yasin Akgul/The Associated Press)

Although an annex to the Hagia Sophia, the Sultan’s pavilion, has been open to prayers since the 1990s, religious and nationalist groups in Turkey have long yearned for the nearly 1,500-year-old edifice they regard as the legacy of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conquerer, to be reverted into a mosque.

“This is Hagia Sophia breaking away from its captivity chains. It was the greatest dream of our youth,” Erdogan said last week. “It was the yearning of our people and it has been accomplished.” Erdogan also described its conversion into a museum by the republic’s founding leaders as a mistake that is being rectified.

‘Cultural and spiritual misappropriation’

In neighbouring Greece, bells tolled and flags flew at half-staff at hundreds of churches across the country in protest. The Greek Orthodox Church leader, Archbishiop Ieronymos, held a special service at Athens Cathedral later Friday. Churches in Athens and in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, also organized vigils.

“Universal values have been tarnished, and that is why they require universal condemnation,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

A few hundred people took part in two peaceful protests in Athens. After the services in Thessaloniki, dozens tried to hold a protest march to the Turkish Consulate, but police prevented the crowd from reaching the building. They burned two Turkish flags before dispersing.


People gather to protest against the turning of Hagia Sophia into a mosque in Athens on Friday. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images)

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said the reconversion “brutally insults not only the Orthodox but all Christians, and also all of civilized humanity.”

The history and religious traditions of the predominantly Greek-speaking and Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire remain influential in Greece. The church protests also occurred amid a volatile dispute between Greece and Turkey over mineral rights in the eastern Mediterranean, with the Greek military on alert over a planned Turkish maritime survey in waters claimed by Greece.

In New York, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, called the inaugural prayers a “cultural and spiritual misappropriation and a violation of all standards of religious harmony and mutual respect.” Archbishop Elpidophoros of the U.S. held a meeting with President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence in Washington on Thursday to discuss concerns over the reconversion.

WATCH | Sights and sounds from Istanbul’s ancient Hagia Sophia:

A Turkish court decision has paved the way for Istanbul’s ancient Hagia Sophia to be converted from a museum back into a mosque. 1:04

In his sermon, Erbas said Mehmet the Conqueror had endowed Hagia Sophia “to believers on condition that it should remain a mosque until the last day.

“Any property that is endowed is inviolable in our belief and burns whoever touches it,” Erbas said.

Hundreds had camped near the structure overnight. Dozens of worshipers broke through one police checkpoint to rush toward Hagia Sophia and social distancing practices, in place due to the coronavirus outbreak, were being ignored, Turkish media reported.

Retired teacher Suleyman Karatas said: “God willing, it will stay as a mosque. Because Hagia Sophia is the legacy of our ancestor.”

Turkey has vowed to protect Hagia Sophia’s artifacts and has said it will remain open to visits by Muslims and non-Muslims outside of prayer hours.

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Turkey’s ancient Hagia Sofia can be converted to a mosque, court rules

A Turkish court said on Friday it annulled a 1934 government decree turning Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a museum, ruling it was unlawful, paving the way for the building’s conversion back into a mosque despite international warnings against such a move.

President Tayyip Erdogan, who has championed Islam and religious observance during his 17-year rule, supported the Hagia Sophia campaign, saying Muslims should be able to pray there again.

Erdogan had proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a focal point of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.

“It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally,” the Council of State, Turkey’s top administrative court, said in a ruling.

“The cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” it said.


Visitors pose for a picture at Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, the UNESCO World Heritage Site which was a Byzantine cathedral before being converted into a mosque and currently a museum. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

Hagia Sophia is nearly 1,500 years old and served as one of the most exalted seats of Christian and then Muslim worship in the world.

The association that brought the court case, the latest in a 16-year legal battle, said Hagia Sophia was the property of Sultan Mehmet, the Ottoman leader who captured the city in 1453 and turned the already 900-year-old Byzantine church into a mosque.

Erdogan acted quickly after the ruling, signing and tweeting a decree that declared Hagia Sophia open to Muslim worship.

“The decision was taken to hand over the management of the Ayasofya Mosque … to the Religious Affairs Directorate and open it for worship,” the decision signed by Erdogan said.

Condemnation from Orthodox leaders, Pompeo

Outside Turkey, the prospect of change has raised alarm.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of 300 million Orthodox Christians, said altering the status of Hagia Sophia would fracture Eastern and Western worlds, while Greek Orthodox leaders and Russia’s Orthodox church have also criticized the potential move.


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said any change would diminish its ability “to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures.”

Hagia Sophia, or “Divine Wisdom” in Greek, was completed in 537 by Byzantine emperor Justinian.

The vast, domed structure overlooked the Golden Horn harbour and entrance to the Bosphorus from the heart of Constantinople. It was the centre of Orthodox Christianity and remained the world’s largest church for centuries.

Hagia Sophia stayed under Byzantine control — except for a brief seizure by Crusaders in the 13th century — until the city was captured by the Muslim forces of the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet the Conqueror, who converted it into a mosque.

Ataturk signature questioned

The Ottomans built four minarets, covered Hagia Sophia’s Christian icons and luminous gold mosaics, and installed huge black panels embellished with the names of God, the prophet Mohammad and Muslim caliphs in Arabic calligraphy.

In 1934, Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, forging a secular republic out of the defeated Ottoman Empire, converted Hagia Sophia into a museum, now visited by millions of tourists every year.


The intentions of Turkey’s modern founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, depicted on a banner in the city of Edirne seen in March, have been widely debated during the legal battles over the ancient site. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

The association committed to making Hagia Sophia a mosque again has pressed Turkish courts several times in the last 15 years to annul Ataturk’s decree.

The association even suggested that the president’s signature on the document was forged. That argument was based on a discrepancy in Ataturk’s signature on the edict, passed around the same time that he assumed his surname, from his signature on subsequent documents.

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At least 62 killed in Afghanistan mosque bombing

Blasts in a mosque in eastern Afghanistan during Friday prayers killed at least 62 men who had gathered for worship, local officials said.

Attaullah Khogyani, spokesperson for Nangarhar province’s governor, said there were multiple blasts from explosives placed inside the mosque in the Jawdara area of Haska Meyna district.

The roof of the mosque had completely fallen in.

Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the provincial council in Nangarhar, said more than 100 others had been wounded, and expected a rise in the number of casualties.

Malik Mohammadi Gul Shinwari, a tribal elder from the area, said that the mosque had completely collapsed.

“It was a heartbreaking scene I witnessed with my eyes,” Shinwari said, adding that 32 bodies and scores of injured have been transported from the blast site.

Tezab Khan, a member of the local police who was on duty in the area, said, “I could hear the mullah who was preaching and suddenly his voice was silenced with a boom.”

“When I arrived on the scene, people were trying to bring out the bodies and injured who were stuck under the fallen roof.”

The Jawdara area is controlled by Afghan security forces.

No militant group has claimed responsibility for the blasts so far.

The Taliban and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters are actively operating in parts of Nangarhar that share a border with Pakistan in the east.

A United Nations report on civilian casualties recorded 4,313 civilians killed and wounded in the past three months. It was the highest death toll for the summer months in at least a decade.

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Shooting at Norway mosque investigated as ‘possible act of terrorism’

An armed attack at a Norwegian mosque on Saturday will be investigated as a possible act of terrorism, police said on Sunday.

The suspected shooter at the al-Noor Islamic Centre in Baerum, near the Norwegian capital — a young, white male carrying several guns — had expressed far-right, anti-immigrant views online, assistant chief of police Rune Skjold told a news conference.

“We’re investigating this as an attempt at carrying out an act of terrorism,” he said.

The suspect had been apprehended after Saturday afternoon’s attack, in which shots were fired but no one was hurt, with members of the congregation having overpowered him before police arrived.

“These people showed great courage,” Skjold added.


A police expert walks past a robot in front of the al-Noor Islamic Centre, a day after a gunman was overpowered at the mosque in the town of Baerum, an Oslo suburb. (Terje Pedersen/AFP/Getty Images)

Only three people were present in the mosque at the time of the attack, preparing for Sunday’s celebration of the Eid-al-Adha festival, mosque spokesperson Waheed Ahmed told Reuters on Saturday.

The attacker was also suspected of killing one of his own family members, a young woman who was found dead at his home, police said earlier.

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New Zealand banning semi-automatic, assault rifles after mosque shootings

New Zealand will ban military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles under tough new gun laws following the killing of 50 people in the country's worst mass shooting, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday.

In the immediate aftermath of Friday's shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, Ardern labelled the attack as terrorism and said New Zealand's gun laws would change.

"On 15 March our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too," the prime minister said. "We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place."

"All semi-automatic weapons used during the terrorist attack on Friday 15 March will be banned," she said at a news conference.

The changes will require legislation, she said, which is being drafted now and will be introduced quickly. Ardern said she expects the new laws to be in place by April 11 and a buy-back scheme will be established for banned weapons.

In the interim, an order in council was put in place to limit trade in the weapons that will be banned.

The buyback would cost up to $ 200 million (around $ 183 million Cdn), she said.

All military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles would be banned, along with parts used to convert weapons into MSSAs and all high-capacity magazines.

Under existing New Zealand gun laws, A-category weapons can be semi-automatic but limited to seven shots. Live-streamed video of a gunman in one of the mosques showed a semi-automatic weapon with a large magazine.

I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest.– New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Australia banned semi-automatic weapons and launched a gun buy-back after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 in which 35 people were gunned down.

Ardern said that similar to Australia, the new gun laws will allow for strictly enforced exemptions for farmers to conduct pest control and animal welfare.

"I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest, and will take these changes in their stride."

New Zealand, a country of less than 5 million people, has an estimated 1.2-1.5 million firearms, around 13,500 of them MSSA type weapons.

Most farmers in the Pacific country own guns, which they use for killing pests such as possums and rabbits, and for putting down injured stock.

Recreational hunting of deer, pigs and goats is popular for sport and food, while gun clubs and shooting ranges dot the country.

That has created a powerful lobby which has thwarted previously attempts to tighten gun laws after other mass shootings in New Zealand and overseas.

Federated Farmers, which represent thousands of farmers, said it supported the change.

"This will not be popular among some of our members but…we believe this is the only practicable solution," Federated Farmers Rural Security spokesman Miles Anderson said in a statement.

The changes exclude two general classes of firearms which are commonly used for hunting, pest control, stock management on farms, and duck shooting.

"I have a military style weapon. But to be fair, I don't really use it, I don't really need it," said Noel Womersley, who slaughters cattle for small farmers around Christchurch.

"So I'm quite happy to hand mine over, to be fair."

Ardern said the next tranche of reforms will cover the firearm registry and licensing.

Incorrect name

Not long after the gun law changes were announced, New Zealand police said they inadvertently charged the mosque shootings suspect with the murder of a person who is still alive.

Police charged 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant with a single, representative count of murder after Friday's attacks. But police on Thursday said in a statement they made an error on the charging sheet prepared for Tarrant's first court appearance Saturday.

Police said they have spoken with the person incorrectly named on the document and have apologized, and said they would change the charge sheet.

Police did not offer further details of what went wrong or make anybody available for an interview. The name of the person on the charging sheet has been suppressed.

Mosques to reopen

On Thursday, the bullet-riddled Al Noor mosque in Christchurch was being repaired, painted and cleaned ahead of Friday prayers, as grieving families buried more victims.

Ardern has announced that Friday's call to prayers for Muslims will be broadcast nationally and there will be a two minute silence.

Armed police have been guarding mosques around New Zealand since the attacks.

"We will have a heightened presence tomorrow in order to provide reassurance to people attending the Friday call for prayers," police said in a statement on Thursday.

A policeman places flowers on the gates of Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Fifty people were killed, and dozens are still injured in hospital after a gunman opened fire on two Christchurch mosques last Friday. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Both mosques attacked, the Al Noor and nearby Linwood mosque, plan to be reopened. Thousands of worshippers are expected at the Al Noor mosque, where the majority of victims died.

The first victims were buried on Wednesday and burials continued on Thursday, with the funeral of a school boy.

A mass burial is expected to be held on Friday. Body washing will go on through the day and night to have the dead ready for burial, said one person involved in the process.

Police have now identified all 50 victims.Twenty nine people wounded in the attacks remained in hospital, eight still in intensive care

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Police 'strongly believe' suspected Christchurch gunman planned to attack 3rd mosque

As the first funerals were held for some of the 50 victims in the Christchurch mosque attacks, New Zealand police announced that they believed the accused shooter was on his way to attack a third target when his vehicle was rammed by police officers and he was arrested.

"We strongly believe we stopped him on the way to a further attack, so lives were saved," New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said Wednesday.

Bush would not say what the third target was, but in a 74-page manifesto posted online and sent to government and some media outlets just minutes before the attack, the alleged shooter pointed to a mosque in Ashburton, a community 90 kilometres southwest of Christchurch.

Police arrested and charged 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant with murder, but additional charges are expected in the coming days.

Tarrant, who is a citizen of  Australia, had been living in Dunedin, New Zealand, and had frequented the Bruce Rifle Club.

Pete Breidahl, a 40-year-old hunter and former member of the New Zealand military, says he visited the club on a number of occasions and told the police he was alarmed by some of the conversations taking place there.

"These guys aren't hunters," he told CBC News.

"These are guys that have combat-based fantasies."

He said he was particularly disturbed by one member who spoke about the mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania, in 1996. The shooter, Martin Bryant, was convicted of 35 counts of murder.

"They were talking about what Martin Bryant did, and how he could have done it better or differently."

Breidahl says he complained to the police, but was told they were "silly old duffers" and not to worry.  

Police say Tarrant had five guns when he attacked the two mosques in Christchurch, including two semi-automatic weapons.

Such guns can be purchased legally and — while owners are not supposed to have a magazine with more than seven rounds of ammunition — there is nothing to prevent them from loading it with 30 rounds.

Gun laws to change

The New Zealand government is poised to introduce stricter regulations on Monday, but John Hart, a farmer and Green Party candidate, decided not to wait and turned in his semi-automatic rifle at a police station.

He'd owned the weapon for about a decade and had been using it to help control the wild goats and pigs that sometimes frequent his property.

"I was effectively wanting to trade off the convenience, against the possibility of other people losing their lives and for me that trade off didn't make sense anymore," he says.

"It became a really easy decision."

While the government has promised swift action on guns, an inquiry is underway to examine whether border officials, police and New Zealand's intelligence agencies missed any red flags that could have alerted authorities before the mosques were attacked.

WATCH | CBC's Adrienne Arsenault reports, where many families are still waiting to bury their dead.

The minister responsible for New Zealand's intelligence services told news outlets that over the past nine months the government has specifically been looking at the rise of alt-right extremists, as the movement has manifested itself in other countries.

Last Friday's attack wasn't the first time the Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch had been targeted. In 2016, a group of neo-Nazis turned up with a pig's head.

Aliya Danzeisen with the Waikato Muslim Association says she and others spent nearly a year trying to get a group, claiming to be from New Zealand, kicked off Facebook for threatening posts which included talk of burning Muslims in cages.

"We have had times, especially in the last five to six years, feared for our children and feared for ourselves," Danzeisen says.  

She is adamant the community has seen a rise in what she calls nationalism and white supremacy.

Some immigrants describe the discrimination as persistent and real, even though they have been living in Christchurch for years.

Heaven Ikahsay immigrated to New Zealand from Sudan 10 years, and is the neighbour of one of the victims still recovering hospital. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

"I am not saying everyone is bad, there are good people," says Heaven Ikahsay a young mother who immigrated from Sudan to New Zealand ten years ago.

"But there are haters as well, people who don't like immigrants and who don't like us being here."  

She feels the attack didn't have anything do with religion, but rather immigration.


Ikahsay spoke with CBC News on the way into the Christchurch Hospital where she was visiting her neighbour who remains in critical condition after being shot at the Al-Noor mosque.  

She said he'd been through four surgeries since the shooting and was still unconscious.

More than 30 people remain in hospital, while a team of 120 work to identify the all those who were killed, by examining fingerprints, DNA and dental records.

Police, meanwhile, said they are working "relentlessly" to formally identify all of the victims and release the bodies to families, saying it would be unforgivable to return the wrong body to a grieving family.

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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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'Many precious people died': Imam reeling after Christchurch mosque shootings

An imam at one of the two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques targeted by a gunman remains haunted by what he saw and the lives lost as burial ceremonies are set to proceed for some of the 50 victims Tuesday.

Alabi Lateef Zirullah, an imam at the Linwood mosque, says his eyes reveal his exhaustion: "I sleep, I wake up, I sleep, I wake up."

When he tries to sleep, he finds himself thinking back to Friday, when a shooter targeted their mosque, and another, as people gathered to pray.

Zirullah, who also goes by Lateef Alabi, says he saw the shooter approach. He quickly tried to drag people to the floor, shouting, "'Go down. Go down."

The shooter never made it all the way into the mosque, he says, but seven people were killed at Linwood.

More may have died were it not for the actions of Abdul Aziz, who pursued the shooter to try to draw him away from the mosque.

The details of the day are still vivid, Zirullah says, describing a moment when he was cradling a man with one hand and calling an ambulance with the other.

"It's my first time in my life to see such things," he says, his head in his hand. "First time."

The violent, terrifying scene has scarred both those who were at the mosques and those called to help at Linwood and the Al-Noor mosque, where dozens were killed. 

"There was a river of blood coming out of the mosque," says ambulance officer Paul Bennett. "That's a scene that you don't forget."

The Linwood mosque was the second site targeted by a gunman in Friday's deadly shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. The mosque, which opened last July, is still being treated as a crime scene. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

A 28-year-old from Australia has been charged with murder in connection with the attacks, which also left dozens wounded. More charges are expected in the days ahead, officials say.

Families of victims, meanwhile, are left waiting for bodies to be released so they can bury their loved ones.

Zahid Ismail, whose brother Junaid is among the dead, says it's time for that process to move forward.

"I still want to have Junaid back to us so we can bury him," Zahid says of his brother, a father of three. "And that has not had any further advancements at all."

A mass burial for some of the dead is expected in Christchurch later this week, though the precise timing is not yet clear.

Zirullah hopes the burials, when they happen, will bring some relief to a shattered community. 

Mourners pray near the Linwood mosque on Tuesday. (Vincent Thian/Associated Press)

"Many precious people died," he says.

Members of the Muslim community in New Zealand and even from abroad have come together to help ready the bodies for burial.

Zirullah won't be leading the service — he's far too traumatized for that — but he will be there to mourn with his community. 

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Trauma, grief and mourning in Christchurch after deadly mosque shootings

All along the perimeter of Hagley Park — a lush, sprawling stretch of green in the centre of Christchurch, New Zealand — are connections to Friday's horrific mass shootings at two mosques.

On the west side of the park is the Al Noor mosque, where 42 people were killed as they prayed. The area around the mosque is still blocked off as police continue to investigate at the first site the gunman attacked. 

To the east is Christchurch Hospital, where 30 people wounded in the shootings are being treated. Security officers stand outside the hospital with lists naming the wounded — there to allow loved ones in, and keep others out.

Just to the north of the hospital are hundreds of flowers, cards and candles placed as a tribute to the 50 people who died in the attacks.

For the past three days people have streamed by leaving tributes, and in some cases crouching down to pray. 

"I am Muslim myself," says Eva Angali who stands with one arm around her boyfriend, while the other hand wipes away tears from her face. 

 "I feel guilty, I feel sad."

Angali, who immigrated to New Zealand from Indonesia, says she doesn't feel safe at the moment because she worries Muslims in Christchurch could become targets again.

Eva Angali and her boyfriend Chase Beardsley dropped off flowers on Monday at growing memorial to the Christchurch victims. (CBC)

"I can't imagine what it must have even like during Friday prayers, she says. "It's supposed to be so peaceful."

The alleged gunman, 28-year old Brenton Tarrant, has been charged with one count of murder, but additional charges are expected in the coming days. 

The investigation is ongoing, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said it's believed the shooter carried five guns, including two semi-automatic weapons. 

'I chased him'

Abdul Aziz says at least one of the weapons involved was a shotgun.

He knows because he saw it discarded next to a body at the Linwood mosque, the second location attacked on Friday.

 Aziz says he grabbed the weapon and started toward the shooter. 

"He just ran towards his car and I chased him."

He says he's not sure if the shooter ran out of bullets or got scared. 

When the shooter jumped in his car, Aziz threw the gun at the windshield and smashed it. The shooter drove off but was apprehended by police a short time later.

Aziz, a furniture store owner and father of four, couldn't go anywhere near the Christchurch hospital on the weekend without running into someone who had been inside the mosque and who now considers him a hero.

He shrugs off those accolades, insisting he only did what anyone else would do. When the shooter was gone, Aziz walked back into the mosque, and says what he and others saw has traumatized them all.

 "Each time we close our eyes, we see all of the dead bodies around us."

Died 'showing love' to others

The identities of the 50 victims who were killed are gradually being released by family and friends. They range in age from just a three-year old to more than 70.

Among the dead, 47-year old Husna Ahmed, whose husband Farid Ahmed said she died while trying to help him escape the mosque.

"She was exactly doing what she was — saving other people, caring for other people, showing love to other people."

Farid Ahmed's wife, Husna, was killed in the Al Noor mosque, after ensuring the safety of many other women and children who were there to pray. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Ahmed says wife had led a group of women and children outside of the mosque and had come back into to try and rescue him, as he is a paraplegic and in a wheelchair. 

She was shot in the back before she reached him, and later died.

As families wait, officials have said they hope to release the bodies of the victims by Wednesday.

The government has said grants will be available to pay for the funerals, and dozens of graves are currently being dug by crews at Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch. 

The prime minister said Monday that the country will hold a national memorial — but not until the families have all had a chance to bury their dead. 

A constant stream of Christchurch residents have been dropping off flowers and notes of condolence to a still-growing memorial in the city's downtown. (Chris Corday/CBC)

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New Zealand citizens open to gun reform after mosque massacres

The New Zealand leader's promise of tightened gun laws in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings has been widely welcomed by a stunned population. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her cabinet will consider the details of the changes on Monday.

She has said options include a ban on private ownership of semi-automatic rifles that were used with devastating effect in Christchurch and a government-funded buyback of newly outlawed guns.

While curtailing gun owners' rights is a political battleground in the United States, Christchurch gun owner Max Roberts, 22, predicted Ardern won't face serious opposition to her agenda.

"There will be no opposition to it. There's no movement in New Zealand for that. Our media and politics are more left wing," said Roberts, a carpenter who uses guns for hunting.

In New Zealand, there are more than 1.2 million firearms among the population of five million, according to a 2017 survey.  

Under New Zealand law, anyone 16 or older may seek a firearms licence, and anyone 18 or older who has applied for a firearms licence can seek a permit to possess a semi-automatic. 

All gun owners must obtain a licence, but individual weapons in the country don't have to be registered. 

Elliot Dawson, who survived the shooting at Christchurch's Linwood mosque by hiding in a bathroom, hopes New Zealand follows Australia's lead on gun control.

In Australia, a virtual ban on private ownership of semi-automatic rifles and a government-funded gun buyback cut the size of the country's civilian arsenal by almost a third. The ban followed a 1996 massacre in which a lone gunman used assault rifles to kill 35 people in Tasmania state in 1996.

'I don't think we need them at all'

"Personally, I don't think guns should be legal at all. Maybe in some extreme self-defence, but I don't think they need such firearms like that," Dawson said. "New Zealand is not America. America is a totally different situation. I think in America it would be probably more dangerous to take people's guns away. But here, I don't think we need them at all."

Akshesh Sharma moved to Christchurch from Fiji to study. He was shocked that the shooter was able to get his hands on such military-style weapons. Sharma agrees with the prime minister that gun laws need to be tightened. "I don't see this as a place where you need guns to live to feel safe," Sharma said. "I can understand in the U.S. maybe, but here it's a different story."

Roberts, the gun owner, doubted banning certain types of weapons would be effective. But he said New Zealand should only allow its own citizens to buy guns.

Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the Australian charged in the Christchurch shootings, obtained a New Zealand gun licence in November 2017 and started legally amassing an arsenal of five guns within a month.

"I think when people harbour hate like that, these things are possible," Roberts said. "Particularly Australian citizens, I don't understand how they can get access to firearms in New Zealand when New Zealand citizens can't get access to firearms in Australia," he added.

'Now is the time for change'

Ian Britton uses a rifle for shooting rabbits and target shooting. He favours outlawing assault rifles like those used in Christchurch because they're unnecessary. "I can't use the words I'd like to use, but it's disgusting. I never thought I'd see that in this country," Britton said.

Ardern noted that attempts to reform had failed before under pressure from the gun lobby. "There have been attempts to change our laws in 2005, 2012 and after an inquiry in 2017. Now is the time for change," she said.

Mourners lay flowers on a wall at the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand on Saturday. (Vincent Thian/Associated Press)

New Zealand was represented at a meeting of Australian state officials on May 10, 1996, two weeks after the Tasmanian massacre, where it was agreed that semi-automatic long arms would be banned except for use by licensed professional shooters.

New Zealand was the only one of nine jurisdictions at the meeting to reject the deal. Philip Alpers, a Sydney University gun policy analyst, said New Zealand had rejected the most important reform among a raft of gun restrictions that halved Australia's gun death rate.

If New Zealand “hadn’t been the exception on that day and done what Australia did, this wouldn’t have happened,” Alpers said, referring to the massacre. 

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