Families of Christchurch dead in agonizing wait for burials

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Imam Ibrahim Abdul Halim, left, of the Linwood mosque holds the hand of Father Felimoun El-Baramoussy from the Dunedin Coptic Church as they walk to the site of Friday's shooting outside the Linwood mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
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Imam Ibrahim Abdul Halim of the Linwood mosque, center left, is embraced by Father Felimoun El-Baramoussy, center right, from the Coptic Church at the site of Friday's shooting outside the Linwood mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Monday. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Updated 18 March 2019

Families of Christchurch dead in agonizing wait for burials

  • Islamic custom dictates that the dead should be buried within 24 hours
  • Dozens of graves were being dug in a Christchurch cemetery on Monday for some of the dead victims

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: Families of the people killed in the Christchurch mosque shootings are enduring an increasingly agonizing wait for the bodies of victims to be released as New Zealand reels from the unprecedented tragedy.
Three days after Friday’s attack, New Zealand’s deadliest shooting in modern history, relatives were anxiously waiting for word on when they can bury their loved ones. Islamic tradition calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible after death.
Aya Al-Umari, whose older brother Hussien Al-Umari died at the Al Noor mosque, said “It’s very unsettling not knowing what’s going on, if you just let me know — is he still in the mosque? Is he in a fridge? Where is he?“
Authorities say they hope to release all the bodies by Wednesday.
Meanwhile, dozens of graves were being dug in a Christchurch cemetery on Monday for some of the dead victims.
Coroners said they hoped to let grieving relatives fulfill Islamic burial customs soon, but insisted they had to move carefully through their investigation into the horrific multiple murder.
Islamic custom dictates that the dead should be buried within 24 hours, but strained authorities — desperate to make sure no mistakes are made or the complex investigation harmed — said a quick process was difficult.
“All of the deceased have had a CT scan, their fingerprints are taken, the property they were wearing or had with them is removed,” said Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall, adding that dental impressions were taken and post-mortems performed.
Ardern said she expected all the dead would have been returned to their families by Wednesday.
An AFP reporter early Monday saw workers and excavators preparing dozens of graves in Christchurch cemetery, though it was unclear when the funerals might start.
“It’s a massacre, what else do they need to know?,” said school principal Sheikh Amjad Ali, expressing frustration over the wait for loved ones’ remains.
The dead from Friday’s attack span generations, aged between three and 77, according to a list circulated among relatives.
Some victims came from the neighborhood, others from as far afield as Egypt. At least two of the dead came from the same family — a father and son.
Delhi said Sunday that five of its nationals were killed, while Pakistan said nine of its citizens were among the dead, including one man who died trying to rush gunman Brenton Tarrant.

Terrorist's manifesto
As New Zealand grappled to come to terms with the slaughter — the worst attack on Muslims in a Western country in modern times — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was holding a cabinet meeting Monday to address gun laws and intelligence failures.
Ardern was among about 30 officials who received the lengthy, meandering and conspiracy-filled far-right “manifesto” prepared by Tarrant, an Australia-born, self-avowed white nationalist who has been arrested in the March 15 terrorist attack on worshippers at the Al-Noor and Linden mosques in Christchurch.
“It did not include a location, it did not include specific details,” said Ardern, adding that it was sent nine minutes before the rampage and handed to security services within two minutes.
Around Christchurch, New Zealand and the world there have been vigils, prayers, memorials and messages of solidarity.
An emotion-filled haka — the Maori war dance — was performed by a New Zealand biker gang to honor the Christchurch dead.
The country remained on high alert, with police on Sunday briefly closing an airport in the southern city of Dunedin — where Tarrant had lived — after an unidentified package was spotted on the airfield. The airport re-opened a few hours later.
In Australia, counter-terrorism police searched two homes early Monday, both near the town of Grafton where Tarrant grew up.
“The primary aim of the activity is to formally obtain material that may assist New Zealand police in their ongoing investigation,” a police statement said.

Fighting for life
Authorities said 34 people remained in hospital.
Among those fighting for their lives is four-year-old Alin Alsati. The pre-schooler was praying alongside her father Wasseim at the Al Noor mosque when she was shot at least three times.
Her father, who was also shot, recently emigrated to New Zealand from Jordan.
The number of dead and injured could have been higher, were it not for people such as Afghan refugee Abdul Aziz.
Aziz was at the Linwood mosque with his four sons when he rushed the attacker armed with the only weapon he could find — a hand-held credit card machine.
He then picked up an empty shotgun discarded by the gunman and shouted “come on here” in an effort to draw him away from his sons and the other worshippers.
“I just wanted to save as much lives as I could, even if I lose my life,” he told AFP.
The mosque attacks have shaken this usually peaceful country, which prides itself on welcoming refugees fleeing violence or persecution.
Ardern has said she would use the cabinet meeting to press for a ban on semi-automatic weapons of the type used by Tarrant. A series of reform attempts in recent years have failed.
Ardern also wants answers from social media giants over the livestreaming of the carnage.
Facebook said it had removed 1.5 million videos of the attack around the world in the first 24 hours.


Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

Updated 23 November 2020

Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

  • Antony Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden
  • Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America

WASHINGTON: President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team’s planning.
Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the US relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.
In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.
Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lacked the granular experience in managing day-to-day foreign policy issues that Blinken would bring to the job.
Biden is likely to name his Cabinet picks in tranches, with groups of nominees focused on a specific top area, like the economy, national security or public health, being announced at once. Advisers to the president-elect’s transition have said they’ll make their first Cabinet announcements on Tuesday.
If Biden focuses on national security that day, Michèle Flournoy, a veteran of Pentagon policy jobs, is a top choice to lead the Defense Department. Jake Sullivan, a longtime adviser to Biden and Hillary Clinton, is also in the mix for a top job, including White House national security adviser.
For his part, Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.
Biden’s secretary of state would inherit a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.
Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30% in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks, from which many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.
A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School and a longtime Democratic foreign policy presence, Blinken has aligned himself with numerous former senior national security officials who have called for a major reinvestment in American diplomacy and renewed emphasis on global engagement.
“Democracy is in retreat around the world, and unfortunately it’s also in retreat at home because of the president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day,” Blinken told The Associated Press in September. “Our friends know that Joe Biden knows who they are. So do our adversaries. That difference would be felt on day one.”
Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser before he moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Biden also is expected to tap longtime diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the US ambassador to the United Nations.
Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America. He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the Treasury Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs or the first African American at the top of the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Treasury Department.
Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday the Trump administration’s refusal to clear the way for Biden’s team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the Cabinet selection process. Trump’s General Services Administration has yet to acknowledge that Biden won the election — a determination that would remove those roadblocks.
“We’re not in a position to get background checks on Cabinet nominees. And so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day,” Klain told ABC’s “This Week.”
Even some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent days and called on him to begin the transition. Joining the growing list were Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime Trump supporter, told ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome and called Trump’s legal team seeking to overturn the election a “national embarrassment.”
Meanwhile, planning was underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration Jan. 20. Klain said the Biden team was consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate over their plans.
“They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal,” Klain said.