Australia

'It’s OK to grieve, OK to ask for help': Christchurch mourns as first funerals for victims begin

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The burials of two people murdered during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch last week have taken place.

A Syrian refugee and his son were buried in New Zealand on Wednesday in the first funerals of those killed in the twin mosque massacre as Kiwis braced for days of emotional farewells following the mass slayings.

Hundreds of mostly Muslim mourners gathered Wednesday morning at a cemetery not far from Linwood Mosque, the second of the two places of worship targeted.

There they prayed and laid to rest Khalid Mustafa and his 15-year-old son Hamza, their names broadcast over a loudspeaker.

The family arrived last year as refugees from the Syrian maelstrom only to find tragedy in a land where they had sought sanctuary.

Khalid, 44, and Hamza were shot dead at the Al Noor Mosque, the first attack site. 

Khalid leaves behind a wife, daughter and son Zaid, 13, who was wounded in the shootings but survived.

In a powerful scene, Zaid sat in a wheelchair, his hands held aloft as he prayed alongside rows of mourners.

An injured Zaed Mustafa, brother of Hamza and son of Khalid Mustafa who died in the March 15 mosque attack, arrives at the funeral.
An injured Zaed Mustafa, brother of Hamza and son of Khalid Mustafa who died in the March 15 mosque attack, arrives at the funeral.

Mourners react as they carry the body of a victim of the Friday March 15 mosque shootings for a burial at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch.
Mourners react as they carry the body of a victim of the Friday March 15 mosque shootings for a burial at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch.
AAP

The burials come after NZ authorities confirmed 21 of the 50 victims shot dead in two separate assaults on two mosques on Friday had been formally identified and their bodies made available to their families.

Another six bodies are expected to be ready for release at noon Wednesday, taking the total to 27, NZ Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.

"By the end of Wednesday, we should have completed the majority of those identifications," Commissioner Bush told reporters in Christchurch.

"I have to say some of those victims will take a little longer."

Mourners react as they carry the body of a victim of the Friday March 15 mosque shootings for a burial at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch.
Mourners react as they carry the body of a victim of the Friday March 15 mosque shootings for a burial at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch.
Getty Images

The Muslim community of Christchurch has been waiting anxiously for the release of the bodies, which under Islamic law must be interred as soon as possible.

Mourners attend the memorial service.
Mourners attend the memorial service.
Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is in Christchurch on Wednesday and has already visited Cashmere High School, which lost two students and a former student in the attacks.

"It is OK to grieve. It is OK to ask for help ... You have the support of all New Zealanders," she told the students.

A police officer drops off flowers at a park outside the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch ahead of the funeral.
A police officer drops off flowers at a park outside the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch ahead of the funeral.
AAP

Ardern will later meet with the emergency workers who first responded to calls for help in the aftermath of the attacks, which also resulted in the injury of another 50 people, before holding a press conference around 2.45pm.

Thirty of those victims are still in hospital and nine are in intensive care.

Mourners carry the body of a victim from the mosque shooting for burial at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch.
Mourners carry the body of a victim from the mosque shooting for burial at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch.
AAP

Mourners gather for the first funeral of the 50 victims of the mosque shootings at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Mourners gather for the first funeral of the 50 victims of the mosque shootings at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand.
AAP

Meanwhile, a diplomatic row has erupted across the Tasman after the Turkish president made "deeply offensive" remarks about Australians and New Zealanders and challenged New Zealand's handling of the alleged attacker.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used a political rally to play parts of a video live-streamed by the gunman to Facebook - despite New Zealand's request the distressing and violent footage not be distributed - as a tool to stoke nationalist and religious sentiment ahead of local elections on March 31.

He also suggested anyone who came to Turkey with anti-Muslim sentiments would be sent back in a coffin "like your grandfathers were" during the WWI Gallipoli campaign, when thousands of Australians and New Zealanders died fighting the Turks.

"Your grandparents came, some of them returned in coffins," he told the rally in northern Turkey. "If you come as well, like your grandfathers, be sure that you will be gone like your grandfathers."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hugs a mourner.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hugs a mourner.
Getty Images AsiaPac

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison took offence and has called in the Turkish ambassador to make Australia's views clear.

"I find the comments obviously offensive, deeply offensive, but also I think very unhelpful," Mr Morrison told Sydney radio 2GB on Wednesday.

President Erdogan also called on New Zealand to restore the death penalty, warning Turkey would make the attacker pay if New Zealand did not, although he did not say how.

"If New Zealand fails to hold the attacker accountable, one way or another we will hold him to account," he said.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist from New South Wales, was charged with one count of murder on Saturday in relation to the shootings. He's likely to face further charges.

In an impassioned speech to the New Zealand parliament on Tuesday, Ardern said she would not use the alleged gunman's name, to deny him notoriety.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, right, hugs and consoles a student during a high school visit in Christchurch.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, right, hugs and consoles a student during a high school visit in Christchurch.
AAP

"He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless," she said.

"And to others I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost, rather than name of the man who took them."

The New Zealand government is preparing to announce new firearms restrictions in the coming days in the wake of the massacre.

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