Wellington: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at an emotional memorial service that this was a day two years after the attack on the Christchurch mosque and that the country “has an obligation” to support its Muslim community.
Hundreds of people participated in this service held under strict security conditions to commemorate the death of 51 people and dozens of dozens of lives when a heavily armed gunman opened fire on two mosques on March 15, 2019. People were injured.
Temel Atacocugu, who was shot nine times in the face, arms and legs, wept as he recalled waiting to be treated with the father of three-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim when they learned the toddler had died.
“Suddenly, my pain seemed insignificant,” he said.
Ardern, who was widely praised for the compassion shown to survivors and the families of the victims of the shooting and her swift move to tighten firearms control in New Zealand, said words “despite their healing power” would never change what happened.
“Men, women and children … were taken in an act of terror. Words will not remove the fear that descended over the Muslim community,” she said, adding the legacy should be “a more inclusive nation, one that stands proud of our diversity and embraces it and, if called to, defends it staunchly.”
Atakokugu said that this is a miracle that he is still alive.
“I have since had seven major surgeries and there are more to come. I will carry lots of shrapnels in my body for the rest of my life. Every time I have an X-ray it lights up like a Christmas tree.”
Kiran Munir, whose husband Shaheed Haroon Mahmood was killed in the attack, told the service that the best revenge was to “not be like the enemy. We are learning to rise up again with dignity and move forward as best we can.”
The gunman, self-proclaimed white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, was arrested minutes after the attacks on Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center.
He pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism, and was sentenced to life imprisonment last year, which is the first life sentence in New Zealand.
Last week, police arrested a 27-year-old man in Christchurch and charged him with threatening to kill following online threats to the same two mosques.
During the memorial service, armed police were stationed outside the venue, and sniffer dogs checked the luggage of people entering the building.