A father and his teenage son, who arrived in New Zealand from war-torn Syria only months ago, have become the first to be buried after last week’s terrorist attacks in Christchurch.
Khaled Mustafa, 44, and his 15-year-old son Hamza were farewelled by friends, family, volunteers and community members on Wednesday in the first of a heartbreaking series of funerals for the 50 worshippers killed in the nation’s deadliest shooting last week.
Among the hundreds at their graveside was Mr Mustafa’s younger son and Hamza’s brother, Zaid, 13, who was wounded in the attack.
“To hear him say to his father ‘I don’t want to be alone’, that was devastating,” said Australian Jamil el-Biza, who is in the city to support the community.
“Even when he was given condolences, we tried not to shake his hands and lift his hand and not touch his foot because they’re still wounded, but he refused – he wanted to shake everyone’s hand.”
Zaid tried standing for prayers for his father and brother but couldn’t because of gunshot wounds to his leg.
Silence fell across the cemetery as the bodies of Mr Mustafa and Hamza were lifted up by male mourners and carried from shoulder to shoulder.
The traditional funeral prayer echoed out across the cemetery and beyond, as father and son were carried across the site and lowered into the ground.
With handfuls of dirt, the queuing mourners paid their respects as the bodies were buried.
Mr el-Biza said the message during the ceremony was of love, compassion and unity and the scale was impressive for the city’s small Muslim community. But the background of terrorism was inescapable.
“I’ve never been to a funeral where the first words the MC was saying were ‘If there is an emergency evacuation’,” he said.
“That was a wake-up call.”
The funerals are the first of many to be held in coming days, including a mass burial.
Christchurch’s Muslim community has become increasingly frustrated in recent days over delays in police releasing the bodies since the attack.
Islamic funerals are held as soon as possible, usually within a day.
Dozens of volunteers from across New Zealand and Australia have been in Christchurch for days to help wash and shroud bodies and prepare burial sites.
New Zealand Police said while they had carried out autopsies on all 50 bodies, they had returned only six to families on Tuesday night.
Another 21 have been identified and more are expected to be returned soon.
“By the end of Wednesday, we should have completed the majority of those identifications,” New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.
“I have to say, some of those victims will take a little longer.”
A number of the dead will be expatriated.
Meanwhile, Mr Bush also confirmed on Wednesday that accused gunman Brenton Tarrant “absolutely” intended to kill more victims after attacking the two mosques on Friday.
He declined to identify the likely next target but said the quick arrest of Tarrant might have saved many more lives.
“We strongly believe we stopped him on the way to a further attack,” Mr Bush said.
“We absolutely believe we know where he was going.”
Tarrant was apprehended within 21 minutes of police being notified of the first attack at the Masjid Al Noor mosque.