Live

Watch CBSN Live

Mosque imam says "New Zealand is unbreakable" in first Friday prayers since attack

New Zealand PM announces assault weapons ban

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday joined thousands of mourners near one of the mosques in Christchurch where 50 people were killed when a gunman opened fire during last week's Friday prayers. Addressing the Muslim community, she stressed, "New Zealand mourns with you, we are one."

People across the country observed the Muslim call to prayer, with thousands gathering at Hagley Park opposite the Al Noor mosque, where many died last week. Thousands more were listening in on radio or watching on television as the event was broadcast live. The prayer was followed by two minutes of silence. 

A day earlier, Ardern announced a ban on sales of "military-style" semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines. "Every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned," she said.

Later Friday, thousands of people gathered for a mass funeral to bury 26 of the victims of the mosque attacks. The funeral took place at a Muslim cemetery where more than a dozen of the 50 killed last week had already been laid to rest.

At the Al Noor mosque on Friday, hundreds of Muslim men sat in socks or bare feet readying for the prayer. One man in the front row was in a Christchurch Hospital wheelchair. 

The Al Noor mosque's imam, Gamal Fouda, thanked New Zealanders for their support. 

People attend the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch
People attend the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. EDGAR SU / REUTERS

"This terrorist sought to tear our nation apart with an evil ideology. ... But, instead, we have shown that New Zealand is unbreakable," the imam said. 

"We are broken-hearted but we are not broken. We are alive. We are together. We are determined to not let anyone divide us," he added as the crowd erupted with applause.

Fahim Imam, 33, returned to his hometown for the service. He left Christchurch three years ago and now lives in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city.

"It's just amazing to see how the country and the community have come together - blows my mind, actually," Imam said before the event.

When he got off the plane Friday morning, he saw someone holding a sign that said "jenaza," denoting Muslim funeral prayer. He said others were offering free rides to and from the prayer service.

"The moment I landed in Christchurch, I could feel the love here. I've never felt more proud to be a Muslim, or a Kiwi for that matter. It makes me really happy to be able to say that I'm a New Zealander," Imam said. 

People perform the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch
People perform the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. EDGAR SU / REUTERS

He called it surreal to see the mosque where he used to pray surrounded by flowers. 

Forty-two people died at the Al Noor mosque and seven at the nearby Linwood mosque. One person shot at one of the mosques died later at a hospital.

The gun legislation is supported not only by Ardern's liberal Labour Party but also the conservative opposition National Party, so it's expected to pass into law. New Zealand does not have a constitutional right to bear arms.

Among those planning to attend Friday's observance was Samier Dandan, the president of the Lebanese Muslim Association in Sydney and part of a 15-strong delegation of Muslim leaders that had flown to Christchurch.

"It was an ugly act of terrorism that occurred in a beautiful, peaceful city," Dandan said.

He said his pain couldn't compare with that of the families he'd been visiting who had lost loves ones. He was inspired by their resilience, he said. 

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves after the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves after the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. JORGE SILVA / REUTERS

"And I've got to give all my respect to the New Zealand prime minister, with her position and her actions, and it speaks loud," he said. 

Ismat Fatimah, 46, said it was sad to look at the Al Noor mosque, which was still surrounded by construction barricades, armed police officers and a huge mound of flowers and messages.

"We're feeling stronger than before, and we are one," she said.

She said she prayed for the people who died.

"I'm just imagining what would be happening last Friday," she said. "People were running around so scared and helpless. It's just not right."

Erum Hafeez, 18 said she felt comforted by the overwhelming response from New Zealanders: "We are embraced by the community of New Zealand, we are not left behind and alone."

The Al Noor mosque's imam said workers have been toiling feverishly to repair the destruction, and some offered their services for free. Fouda expects the mosque to reopen by next week.