A Muslim worshipper, who was among the first people to be killed in New Zealand’s worst ever mass shooting, appeared to say “hello brother” to the attacker just moments before he was shot dead.
According to a live stream video of the attack, the man, who is yet to be identified, could be overheard saying “hello brother” as the gunman approached the entrance of the Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch.
At least 49 people, including children, were killed in Friday’s attacks targeting the Al Noor and Linwood mosques. According to Christchurch Hospital, at least 48 people were being treated for gunshot wounds, which ranged from severe to critical.
Video footage of the attack, which has been widely shared on social media, showed a gunman shooting indiscriminately at worshippers as they ran for safety or lay huddled on the floor.
A 28-year-old Australian man, who police have not identified, has been charged with murder. He is set to appear in court on Saturday.
‘The reply was three bullets’
As the attack shocked New Zealand, a nation where violent crime is rare, several social media users hailed the Muslim man who greeted the attacker before he was murdered.
“‘Hello, Brother’ were the last words of the first New Zealand victim. As he faced a rifle, his last words were peaceful words of unconditional love. DO NOT tell me that nonviolence is weak or pacifism is cowardice,” one Twitter user said.
“‘Hello brother’ a word came out of a pure soul filled with a peaceful faith. ‘Hello brother’ was said to a killer with a rifle pointed to this greeting. ‘Hello brother’ he said thinking that he is talking to a human with soul and feelings. ‘Hello brother’ was shot dead,” another wrote.
“Hello brother and the reply was three bullets – Bi-ayyi thanbin qutilat (For what crime. She was killed) [Quran: 81, v9],” said another.
“I don’t know if i’m going to be feeling safe walking by myself wearing my headscarf.” – Christchurch resident
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) March 15, 2019
Aziz Helou, a resident of Melbourne, Australia, wrote on Facebook that “amongst the chaos of today, the evil we both heard and saw”, that one incident stood out.
“The first Muslim man to die, his final words were ‘hello brother’. These words were uttered by a man who symbolised Islam. He had a rifle pointed at him by a man with clear intentions to kill and how did he respond? With anger? With aggression? No, with the most gentle and sincere greeting of ‘hello brother’.
“Perhaps this hero was trying to diffuse the situation? Maybe Allah used this man to show the world the kindness that is Islam. I don’t know but what I want, is to make certain, is that this detail isn’t lost amongst you. That this mans final act was an Islamic one, a sincere courageous and warm way to stop violence instead of fuelling it”.
Attack blamed on rising Islamophobia
In a social media video, former New Zealand rugby star Sonny Bill Williams gave a tearful tribute to those killed.
Williams, a practising Muslim, struggled to hold back tears in the 64-second Twitter post, telling families of those killed that “you are all in Paradise”.
Analysis: Shooting attacks on two mosques in New Zealand (8:22)
“I heard the news. I couldn’t put it into words how I’m feeling right now,” Williams said.
“Just sending my duas [prayers] to the families”.
Before the attacks took place, the gunman reportedly published an Islamophobic manifesto on Twitter. He then live-streamed his rampage, according to an analysis by AFP news agency.
Political leaders across the world condemned the killings, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan describing them as “the latest example of rising racism and Islamophobia”.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also blamed the attacks on rising Islamophobia.
“I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11 where Islam and 1.3bn Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror by a Muslim,” said Khan.
“This has been done deliberately to also demonise legitimate Muslim political struggles.”