New Zealand mosque shooting survivor brands gunman 'loser'

25 August 2020, 11:43

Brenton Tarran (L) was branded a "loser" by survivor Mirwais Waziri (R)
Brenton Tarran (L) was branded a "loser" by survivor Mirwais Waziri (R). Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A man who survived the 2019 New Zealand mosque attacks has told the gunman: "You are the loser, and we are the winners."

Mirwais Waziri, who was shot and wounded during the horrifying ordeal, was among the survivors and family members who spoke on day two of a four-day sentencing of white supremacist Brenton Harrison Tarrant.

The mass-murderer killed 51 worshippers last March at two mosques - the Al Noor mosque and the Linwood mosque - in the South Island city of Christchurch.

Instead of delivering a victim's impact statement, Mr Waziri gave the gunman - who he said had not shown any remorse during the hearing - a stirring message.

The victim said he had, in the past, been associated with terrorism because he came from Afghanistan.

But since the attack, Mr Waziri said he has now been freed from this stereotype.

"You took that name from me," he said. "Today, you are the terrorist."

Other victims present in the courtroom responded to his comments with spontaneous applause while telling Tarrant during their statements that he was a coward, a monster and a rat.

The attacker appeared mostly passive throughout the hearing, breaking character only a couple of times to smirk at survivors who ridiculed him.

One suggested he read the Quran during his years of free time, while another poked fun at his ability to shoot, saying he was only alive because Tarrant did not know how to operate a weapon except from at point-blank range.

In March, the 29-year-old Australian gunman, originally from the city of Grafton in New South Wales, pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder, and terrorism, reversing an earlier not guilty plea.

He could become the first person in New Zealand to receive the country's toughest sentence available - life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Noticeably thinner than when he was first arrested, Tarrant has so far in the hearing not shown the brazenness he did at his first court appearance the day after the attacks, when he made a hand gesture sometimes adopted by white supremacists.

Survivors and relatives, speaking during Tuesday's hearing, described how more than a year after the attacks, they were still having trouble sleeping, enjoying life and providing for their families.

Rashid Omar, whose 24-year-old son Tariq was killed at the Al Noor mosque, said he had desperately held out hope his son had survived until police and Muslim leaders read out a list of those who had died.

"My body felt completely weak and everything went silent," Mr Omar said.

He started crying with his family, even though he had intended to remain strong.

"As a parent, no matter how old your children are, they'll always be your baby," he said.

Each day has become a burden to endure and he finds even simple tasks hard to complete, Mr Omar said.

He explained how he wakes up tired and with no energy, and despite once loving photography, he can now no longer bear to pick up a camera.

Mr Omar's wife Rosemary said she functions from moment to moment, often in a fog. The loss and grief is debilitating, she said, and has cast a shadow over everything in their lives.

"It's like I'm broken, and I see my family as broken," she said.

Many of those who spoke described ongoing financial strain.

Motasim Uddin, who was shot in the leg and spent more than three months in hospital, said he had been unable to return to his job as a welder and was worried about his future, especially as he was trying to support his parents in Bangladesh.

"I cannot forget what happened, what I saw," Mr Uddin said. "I try to forget, but I wake up thinking about it."

Noraini Milne, whose 14-year-old son Sayyad was killed, said her own survival came as a blessing as she planned to spend her life helping others.

"You chose to perform a despicable and cowardly act," she said to Tarrant.

Tarrant has dismissed his lawyers and is representing himself during the sentencing.

The attacks targeting people praying at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques shocked New Zealand and prompted new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons.

They also prompted global changes to social media protocols after the gunman live-streamed his attack on Facebook, where it was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.