People applaud after biker gangs performed the haka as a tribute to victims in Christchurch on Wednesday. Agence France-Presse
CHRISTCHURCH: The bodies of victims from New Zealand’s mosques mass shooting were carried in open caskets on the shoulders of mourners into a large tent at Christchurch’s Memorial Park Cemetery on Wednesday - the first burials of the 50 victims.
Wrapped in white cloth, the bodies were laid to face the Holy City of Makkah, and, after jenazah (funeral) prayers, were carried towards their freshly dug graves.
“I cannot tell you how gutting it is a family came here for safety and they should have been safe here,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, visiting the city for the second time since the massacre.
Meanwhile, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who convened crisis talks some days ago immediately after a man opened fire on tram passengers killing three and injuring several persons, intensified search operations and authorities were told to keep a close watch on the situation.
During the Christchurch funeral, Gulshad Ali, who had travelled from Auckland to attend the first funeral said, “Seeing the body lowered down, it was a very emotional time for me,” said Gulshad Ali, who had travelled from Auckland to attend the first funeral.
Several mounds of dirt piled high marked the site of multiple graves which will be used for New Zealand’s worst mass shooting.
Hundreds gathered to mourn, some men wearing a taqiyah (skullcap), others shalwar kameez (long tunic and trousers), while women wore hijabs and scarfs.
The first two victims buried, father and son Khaled and Hamza Mustafa, came from war-torn Syria.
Heavily armed police stood watch with flowers tucked in their revolver holsters and attached to their high powered rifles.
Six victims were buried on Wednesday, with more expected during the week.
Ardern said this coming Friday’s call to prayers for Muslims in New Zealand will be broadcast nationally and there will be a two minute silence on Friday.
“There is a desire to show support for the Muslim community as they return to mosques on Friday,” she said.
The bullet-ridden Al Noor mosque, where more than 40 people died, is being repaired for Friday prayers.
Ardern said on Wednesday Foreign Minister Winston Peters will travel to Turkey to “confront” comments made by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the Christchurch killings.
Erdogan - who is seeking to drum up support for his AK Party in March 31 local elections - said on Tuesday Turkey would make the suspected attacker pay if New Zealand did not.
The comments came at a campaign rally that included video footage of the shootings that the alleged gunman had broadcast on Facebook.
Ardern said Peters would seek urgent clarification.
“Our deputy prime minister will be confronting those comments in Turkey,” Ardern told reporters in Christchurch. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face.”
Erdogan has referred to the mosque shootings several times during public gatherings in recent days.
Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said comments made by Erdogan on Monday during the commemoration of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign were taken out of context, adding he was responding to the attacker’s “manifesto,” which was posted online by the attacker and later taken down.
“Turks have always been the most welcoming & gracious hosts to their Anzac visitors,” Altun said on Twitter, using the abbreviation for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
“As he was giving the speech at the Canakkale (Gallipoli) commemoration, he framed his remarks in a historical context of attacks against Turkey, past and present.”
Tarrant will spend the rest of his life in jail if convicted, likely in isolation for his own safety, a New Zealand criminologist and former convict said on Wednesday.
“He is going to be very highly unpopular in a prison where 80 percent (of inmates) are Maori or Pasifika (Pacific islanders) and he is a white supremacist,” said Greg Newbold, a professor of criminology at Canterbury University.
“He will have no friends, not even the white guys,” added Newbold, who spent five years in jail on drugs charges -- half of that in maximum security -- before turning his life around.