New Zealand mosque attacks survivors describe hiding under corpses

New Zealand mosque attacks survivors describe hiding under corpses
1 / 3
Twenty-nine-year-old Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant sits in the dock at the Christchurch High Court for sentencing after pleading guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Aug. 24, 2020. (John Kirk-Anderson/Pool Photo via AP)
New Zealand mosque attacks survivors describe hiding under corpses
2 / 3
Mosque shooting survivor Khaled Majed Abd'el Rauf Alnobani points at the gunman, 29-year-old Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, at the Christchurch High Court for sentencing after pleading guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Aug. 24, 2020. (John Kirk-Anderson/Pool Photo via AP)
New Zealand mosque attacks survivors describe hiding under corpses
3 / 3
Crown prosecutor Barnaby Hawes reads the summary of facts during the sentencing of Christchurch mosques attacker Brenton Tarrant in Christchurch, New Zealand on August 24, 2020. (John Kirk-Anderson/Pool via REUTERS)
Short Url
Updated 24 August 2020

New Zealand mosque attacks survivors describe hiding under corpses

New Zealand mosque attacks survivors describe hiding under corpses
  • New details about the March 2019 attacks were outlined during the first day of a four-day sentencing hearing at the Christchurch High Court
  • Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, pleaded guilty in March to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND: Not only did Brenton Harrison Tarrant murder 51 Muslims on the early afternoon, his sentencing hearing today at the High Court here in New Zealand’s second-largest city heard, he also killed 51 Muslim families.

Almost, at least, but not quite.

Even in a world roiled by terrorist atrocities, the anti-Muslim carnage that took place here in Christchurch on March 15 last year was outsized. But so has been the effort made for survivors to speak on behalf of those who perished in the two meticulously planned attacks against Friday worshippers at the city’s Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre. 

Tarrant, an Australian national and self-confessed white supremacist, has already pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder as well as 40 further charges of attempted murder and another of engaging in a terrorist act. His sentencing hearing has been set down for at least four days in order to allow for more than 60 victim-impact statements to be heard.




Maysoon Salama, mother of Ata Mohammad Ata Elayyan who was killed in the shooting, gives a victim impact statement about the loss of her son during the sentencing of mosque gunman Brenton Tarrant at the High Court in Christchurch, New Zealand, on August 24, 2020. (John Kirk-Anderson/Pool via REUTERS)

There’s a separate press room where the media watch proceedings via video link. Outside there’s a heavy police presence and a small huddle of broadcast media and photographers.

Justice Cameron Mander said he was “acutely conscious” of the stress of both the event and the practicalities of victims navigating the travel restrictions of a pandemic in order to speak at the sentencing. At least three of the days have been set aside for more than 60 such testimonies.

The number of statements is as unprecedented as the security around the proceedings, with police snipers stationed atop of the courthouse roof, nearby roads shut down and heavily armed cops and bomb-sniffer dogs moving around the main courtroom and its seven overflow rooms.

Some of today’s dozen or so major statements — most of them delivered live, but some given by way of pre-recorded video — spoke wistfully of New Zealand as a land of initial promise, so far removed from troubled homelands such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia.

Details of the early afternoon when that idyllic image vanished were frequently grisly, with accounts of survivors playing dead underneath corpses seeping brain tissue and blood.

One Iraqi woman whose identity was suppressed wept as she explained the grief of receiving her son’s body for burial on what was also Mother’s Day across much of the Middle East. The same date also happened to coincide with her birthday.

Another mother spoke of her helplessness at having to raise a non-verbal autistic child now forever without a devoted father.

“The gunman and I looked into each other’s eyes,” added Temel Atacocugu, recalling his own experience at Al Noor Mosque. “I laid under bodies in the mosque, thinking I was going to die …  I could feel the blood and brains of the person above me running down my face and neck. I couldn’t move or make a sound, as the gunman would have executed me.”

On Monday Atacocugu again looked across at the diminutive gunman now seated in the court — who did not return his gaze.




There's a heavy police presence outside the courts, and surrounding roads are closed. (AFP)

The proceedings began with the prosecution airing a summary of the facts, the first time this document had received a public airing.

The court heard of the 29-year-old Australian’s apparently self-financed 15-month spending spree leading up to the March 2019 attack, stockpiling high-powered firearms, military specification sighting systems and telescopic sights.

He purchased more than 7,000 rounds of ammunition, police-style ballistic armour, military-style tactical shirts and a bayonet-style knife. He also bought camouflage clothing and, in particular, the many rifles that he later modified before daubing slogans, obscure European symbols and historical dates on to them. In a methodical touch, he draped a bullet-proof vest across the back of the driver’s seat for ballistic protection.

Tarrant also brought a drone with him to Christchurch and used it to case out Al Noor Mosque, the city’s largest, in particular the exit and entrance doors that immediate survivors would head for.

It was this attention to detail that allowed him, for example, to track 16-year-old Alhaj Mustafa, who had managed to escape the initial bloodletting inside the main prayer room, find him crouched among the parked vehicles outside, and fatally pump another five shots into the boy. 

Also packed in Tarrant’s vehicle had been four modified petrol containers. These he originally planned to use to burn down each of the three mosques he had intended to attack. The court heard that the last planned assault was thwarted before he had an opportunity to make the hour-long drive to what would have been the final mosque in Ashburton.

Other survivors, including the mosque’s imam, Gamal Fouda,

spoke about lost work opportunities, the indignities of widowhood, the pain of busted dreams, the sounds of bereaved children still crying into the night — and the power of forgiveness.


But Tarrant can probably expect little judicial mercy.  There’s no death penalty, New Zealand last executed a convict in 1961, and formally struck the last of its capital crimes, for treason, from its books in the late 1980s. While “life” imprisonment is usually the sentence for murder, it typically means fewer than 17 years in jail and sometimes only 10.

A sentence of life without parole would therefore be unprecedented — like almost everything else about the case — but not out of consideration. The hearing continues.


UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator
Updated 02 March 2021

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator
  • Assaf Kaplan alleged to have worked for cyber branch of Israeli Defense Forces
  • Complaint brought by lawyers representing Palestinian Labour member

LONDON: Lawyers acting on behalf of a Palestinian activist and Labour member have complained to the opposition party over its recent hire of an alleged former Israeli intelligence operator in a social media strategy role.

The party hired Assaf Kaplan as a social listening and organizing manager, described as “a crucial new role at the heart of Labour’s new approach to digital campaigning.”

The complaint from Bindmans solicitors alleges that Kaplan worked for Unit 8200, the cyber branch of the Israel Defense Forces, from 2009 to 2013.

The lawyers outline the unit’s controversial surveillance practices against Palestinian civilians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In 2014, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 signed a public letter refusing to serve in operations that focused on the occupied Palestinian territories because of civilians being surveilled, which they feared could be used for blackmail.

It is unclear what Kaplan did within the unit or whether he had any knowledge of the monitoring of citizens.

The job description for his new role at the Labour Party says the worker “will help to move the social media listening framework of the party to be laser focused on those we need to win over to form the next government.”

Bindmans solicitors say the party’s stance on the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories should have ruled out Kaplan from the role. They have urged Labour to explain the decision.

Kaplan’s hiring has also drawn a complaint from former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Adnan Hmidan, who Bindmans are representing, was born to Palestinian parents who were forcibly removed to Jordan.

Bindmans’ letter states that Labour conferences under various leaderships have criticized Israeli annexation plans as breaching international law.

The lawyers say if Labour knew about Kaplan’s background, it has failed to consider the views of its Palestinian members, and if it did not know, it has failed to show due diligence.

Hmidan said he is concerned about the personal data of party members that Kaplan could access in his role.


UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts
Updated 02 March 2021

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts
  • Reduction of spending in Yemen prompts questions in Parliament
  • There is enough opposition to suggest a vote could be defeated

LONDON: The UK government may cut the amount of money it spends on foreign aid without pushing a law through Parliament, so as to avoid MPs rejecting it.

The government announced last year that it planned to reduce overseas aid from 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to 0.5 percent due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it has faced criticism over the effect this could have in certain parts of the world.

In particular, a reduction in the UK’s spending in war-torn, famine-hit Yemen from £164 million ($233.36 million) to £87 million has met with stern opposition at home and abroad, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling it “a death sentence” for millions of people.

It has met hostility from opposition MPs and government backbenchers in large enough numbers to suggest that a vote on amending foreign aid could be defeated.

On Tuesday, Middle East and North Africa Minister James Cleverly was asked by Conservative MP Damian Green in the UK’s House of Commons whether he could “give a commitment today that further cuts won’t be made until that necessary legislation promised by ministers to this House to enact this policy has been put to a vote, so that this House can express a view?”

Cleverly failed to say if legislation would be brought to Parliament, saying he “envisaged that (the) 0.7 percent (spending) target may not be met,” and “the government is well able to listen to the mood of the House without legislation.”

Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall challenged this suggestion, saying: “If the government is so reassured by its position, then I suggest it brings a vote to the House on this issue, and they can truly gauge the strength of feeling.”

Whether the government would be able to legally cut the foreign aid budget, currently enshrined in UK law, without a vote in Parliament is unclear, and would likely be subject to judicial review if attempted.

There have also been suggestions that a vote could be attached to other votes over the upcoming UK budget, set to be announced on Wednesday, to reduce the likelihood of it being rejected. The UK is the only G7 country to have proposed reducing its foreign aid this year.
 


US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees
Updated 02 March 2021

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees
  • 14,000 Syrians reportedly tortured and thousands forcibly disappeared, US ambassador to UN tells General Assembly

United Nations, United States, March 2, 2021 Agence France Presse: Syria has been demanded to make the status of detainees public and return any bodies of the dead to their families in an address by the US ambassador to the UN’s General Assembly.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said “at least 14,000 Syrians have been reportedly tortured and tens of thousands forcibly disappeared,” during the General Assembly debate on human rights
“We demand that the status of all those detained be made public and we demand that the bodies of the deceased be returned to their loved ones with the time, place and cause of death,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
The 193-member body heard testimony from several survivors who demanded that the international community hold Syrian perpetrators of abuse responsible.
Russia, Syria’s main ally, has repeatedly used its veto power to protect Damascus from any such measures, however.
Syrian President Bashar Assad “continues to imprison tens of thousands of innocent Syrians, women, children, the elderly, doctors, aid providers, journalists, human rights defenders,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
“These innocent civilians are denied fair trials, are subject to torture, sexual violence and inhuman conditions,” she added.
She also denounced the closure of humanitarian aid entry points along the Syrian border in 2020, which occurred after agreement with Damascus could not be reached.
Only one entry point, along the border with Turkey, remains open but Russia has hinted that it intends to close it in July when its UN authorization expires.
The closures “prevented vital humanitarian aid by the United Nations,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “And it is simply deplorable and it has unnecessarily deepened the suffering of millions of Syrians.”
“It is time for us to reach a real political solution,” she added. “This is the only way to bring sustainable peace, stability and security to the Syrian people.”
Syria’s war has killed more than 387,000 people, ravaged key infrastructure and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression on anti-government protests.


Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists
Updated 02 March 2021

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists
  • ‘No doubt there is a danger’ from ‘puffing, panting’ runners: Oxford professor

LONDON: Joggers should wear face masks while exercising because running past people while breathing heavily could pose a coronavirus transmission risk, scientists have warned.

“There is no doubt the virus is in the air, there is no doubt that you can catch it if you inhale, and that someone else has exhaled,” Prof. Trish Greenhalgh of the University of Oxford told TV program “Good Morning Britain.”

She said: “The exercising jogger — the puffing and panting jogger — you can feel their breath come and you can sometimes actually feel yourself inhale it, so there’s no doubt that there is a danger there.”

She added: “About 40 percent of coronavirus cases happen by catching it from people who have no symptoms. So you’re jogging along, you think you’re fine, and then the next day you develop symptoms, but you’ve actually breathed that coronavirus onto someone.”

Devi Sridhar of the University of Edinburgh said: “This can spread through the air and so it is important that runners should think … I think we need some consideration for each other right now. We’re in a pandemic, so if you’re going to run or cycle in a busy area, wear a mask.”

Former UK politician Tom Watson said: “If you’re a runner you should know obviously you’re breathing more deeply, and you should try not to run into people or run near them.”


UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip
Updated 02 March 2021

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip
  • Police brand pair ‘selfish’ for failing to quarantine upon return

LONDON: A British couple have been fined £10,000 ($13,945) each after they returned to the UK from a holiday in Dubai and failed to quarantine.

Police said the pair tried to avoid travel rules put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus by taking an indirect route back from Dubai, which is on the UK’s “red list” of restricted destinations.

Merseyside Police Chief Inspector Chris Barnes said the duo had been transported to a designated quarantine hotel on Feb. 26 following the fines.

“Strict rules around international travel have been put in place by the government for a reason, and to disregard them in this way is selfish, inconsiderate, and potentially dangerous,” he added.

“Currently, the regulations mean that if you are a British or Irish national, or you have residence rights in the UK and are returning from a country on the foreign travel ‘red list,’ you must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days,” he said.

“If you are required to quarantine at a hotel, you can only arrive in England at certain ports of entry. In this instance, the pair in question avoided a direct flight route back from Dubai to one of the specified airports in an attempt to evade this process.”