DThis weekend could be a normal weekend in Christchurch: variable fall time, but mostly sunny, ideal for spending the day outdoors, relaxing or playing sports. But it is not possible. The police have isolated the whole city. A police helicopter buzzes in the sky. The cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh, an important match, has been canceled.
Friday night I wrote live reports for the international media about a massacre. I usually write about design or architecture. Christchurch rarely appears in world news. The last time in 2011, after the city was shaken by a series of earthquakes of which it has not yet fully recovered.
The entire city is in shock after an armed man in camouflage opened fire in two city mosques during Friday prayers.
At least 50 people were killed, including children. Another 39 people are still in hospitals, said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Saturday. Twelve of them are in critical condition. Muslims were still called to stay away from mosques.
My heart is broken This seems worse than earthquakes. A natural disaster cannot be stopped, but what has happened now is different.
He had manipulated weapons to increase shooting power
Like so many others, I cannot believe that this atrocity was committed in my city. This does not happen here. It's terrible. The people we personally know could be among the victims. However, I have to do my job now.
What we know so far: the perpetrator first invaded the Al-Nur Mosque, located in the northwest near the city park, where more than 300 people had gathered for Friday prayers. There he shot at least two rapid-fire weapons and killed 41 people.
According to investigations, he had manipulated weapons to increase shooting power. Then he drove to a second mosque and killed eight others. With a helmet video camera, he filmed the crime and broadcast it live on the Internet. The video lasts 17 minutes.
The shooter then wanted to continue killing. "He had absolutely the intention to continue his attack," said Prime Minister Ardern. After leaving the second mosque, he was stopped by the police in his car. Two other firearms and explosives were also insured.
According to the police, they spent 36 minutes from the first alarm to arrest. It is unclear whether two other suspects, who had been arrested on Friday, were in contact with the Australian.
The alleged perpetrator was identified as Brenton Harrison Tarrant, an Australian citizen residing in Dunedin, southern New Zealand, from the end of 2017. The authorities consider Tarrant a violent criminal for racist reasons. This was indicated by his appearances on social media. Moreover, the alleged author is attributed to a so-called "manifesto" published on the Internet in which immigrants are condemned as "invaders".
The 28-year-old appeared in handcuffs and white prison clothes Saturday in front of a court in Christchurch. He had previously committed the worst mass murder in the town's history. He is now in a detention center.
At his court time, he showed the positive signal in the cameras, a gesture used by white extremists from all over the world: thumb and forefinger held together, fingers apart. He did not comment on the charges. On April 5, there will be the next court date. If convicted, he will face life imprisonment. Prime Minister Ardern spoke of a "terrorist act".
We cross the city on this Saturday morning and park behind the barriers. The police came from all over the country to provide support, strange as it may seem, the sight of armed guards who are so calm and well trained gives us a sense of security. My wife lays a bunch of autumn crocuses from our garden near the Al-Nur mosque on a tree.
It is no longer a white, Anglo-Saxon city
Rebecca Lee also came there to pay tribute to the victims. He works in a refugee camp in Christchurch. Christchurch has a growing community of migrants, it is no longer a monocultural, white, Anglo-Saxon city.
Immigrants come from all over the world, including people fleeing conflict in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Ethiopia. Others have lived in Christchurch for decades. Many Christians in Christchurch have accepted this diversity. The Muslim community, with 50,000 members, is only a minority of one percent of the total population.
The immigrant community will experience "painful pain" and a shock that permeates everyone, says Rebecca. "I think we all need to increase our willingness to accept diversity, even in New Zealand. We are on the side of the Muslim community in this tragic moment."
Rebecca Lee asks for the amendment of the gun laws. "I am very angry about the arms laws in New Zealand and how they are watered down. How did the offender take the weapon, how did he take it?" He asks.
In New Zealand, every citizen over the age of 16 can obtain a firearms license if he has previously attended a safety course. Weapons must not be registered individually. The offender was a member of a shooting club. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ardern announced, as a result of the attack, the strengthening of the right-hand weapon.
Misunderstanding, pain, compassion
We continue through the park to the public hospital in Christchurch, where a steady stream of visitors arrives and visits relatives and friends wounded in the shootings. Mohammed Amin Basharati, a Kurd who comes from the area of conflict between Turkey and Iraq, is a distinguished elderly gentleman.
His neighbor had been killed, he says, and had come to visit his family in the hospital. "I am very sad. New Zealand is a safe country. People are very kind, very friendly, we simply don't know why it happened."
Mohammed Ali Hassan, a native of Somalia, was attached to the Al-Nur mosque. "We are completely devastated," he says. "It's unacceptable and absolutely terrible. I lost friends, one of my best friends, even a dear friend. I was lucky not to have been one of the victims," he says.
Someone came to the mosque and started "shooting for no reason". For Muhammad, this makes no sense. "I never thought that such a thing could ever happen in New Zealand or in my life. We don't deserve to be killed for no reason. Everyone has a right to his faith, his thoughts and his life."
Mohammed has a message he wants to share, he wants to address it to all the denominations. "We must love each other, we must work together, we must talk to each other, be friendly with each other and have mutual compassion," he says.
For him, the attack was an "act of pure evil", which belongs neither to Muslims nor to Christians, does not belong to any man. "Someone with a human mind can't do it, you can't just wake up in the morning and plan to kill innocents for no reason," says Mohammed.
"Stay together, be tolerant"
Osman Ahmed also comes from Somalia. He is sitting in the car next to his daughter and is still wearing a hospital shirt. Osman was hit by back, neck and shoulder and almost kicked, but miraculously managed to get away with mortal wounds. Speak in a calm and gentle voice.
When the assassin fired the first shots, he had just arrived at the mosque and started praying. "I still hadn't finished when I ran and shouted people and then I heard the shots, I couldn't run into the street, because all the people ran away from the perpetrator and then came to me," he says, "I was lying on the ground , I couldn't do anything else, and he shot everyone. "
He felt he had been hit, he had remained on the ground and could not move. "They were people on me who were already dead. I couldn't get up, and then he came back and shot again. A kid, I love him, I saw him, they shot him in the head, I was like that sad and horrified. "
What do you feel for the man who did this? "I don't know what to say. It's the devil's work," says Osman. He has only one piece of advice: "To avoid this happening in this beautiful country we live in together, we have to tell people that we don't want to hurt anyone. Come together, be tolerant and work together."