New Zealanders gathered today for nationwide prayers to mark one week since mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch killed 50 worshippers.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led thousands of mourners in prayer early on Friday afternoon, local time, at a park in front of the Al Noor mosque.
“New Zealand mourns with you. We are one,” she said in a short speech, followed by two minutes of silence.
Most of the victims died at the Al Noor mosque.
The mosque’s Imam Gamal Fouda told the crowd, “This terrorist sought to tear our nation apart with an evil ideology that has torn the world apart. But instead we have shown that New Zealand is unbreakable, and that the world can see in us an example of love and unity. We are broken hearted but we are not broken. We are alive. We are together. We are determined to not let anyone divide us.”
Moments from the prayer ceremony:
Ardern, who has labelled the attack terrorism, announced a ban on military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles under new gun laws on Thursday.
The prime minister was accompanied at the Christchurch prayers by community leaders and foreign dignitaries.
The call to prayer was broadcast nationally across all free-to-air TV and radio stations.
Armed police have been guarding mosques around New Zealand since the attacks. Police said there would be a “heightened presence” on Friday to reassure those attending weekly prayers.
Imam Gamal Fouda calls Islamophobia a ‘targeted campaign to influence people.’
Candlelight vigils continued until late on Thursday across the country, while government officials worked through the night to prepare the mosque and the bodies of the deceased for a mass burial that is expected after the prayers.
“All the bodies are washed. We finished around 1.30 a.m. this morning. It was our duty. After we finished there was a lot of emotion, people were crying and hugging,” said a body washer in Christchurch who gave his name as Mo.
Newspapers across the country ran full-page memorials with the names of the victims, and a call for national mourning.
“A call to prayer … in unity there is strength,” New Zealand Herald said on its front page.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist who was living in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, has been charged with murder following the attack.
He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.
On Thursday, New Zealand Police released a statement saying Tarrant had applied for a firearms license in September 2017. He provided the required references and was interviewed the following month in person in his home, which was also inspected.
He was granted the firearms license in November of that year.
Twenty-eight people wounded in the attacks remain in hospital, six in intensive care.
Most victims were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Muslims account for just over one per cent of New Zealand’s population, a 2013 census showed, most of whom were born overseas.
On social media, New Zealanders of all religions were being encouraged to wear head scarves on Friday to show their support for the Muslim community.
The #headscarfforharmony movement was trending on Twitter on Friday, with people posting photos of themselves in the Muslim attire.