Speaking to New Zealand’s Herald newspaper for the first time after the 15 March bloodbath, Al Noor Mosque imam Gamal Fouda admitted that several seconds after the massacre, he could not understand what was going on and thought that some youngsters were playing around.
“Then the shooting started heavily”, he said, adding that “people ran towards the big hole [in the glass]”.
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“Most of the people, they run through the window. That's why on this right side [of the building] only a few people were killed. But the left side, they fell on each other and they piled on top of each other. He was just standing and aiming at them”, Fouda added.
The imam said that the gunman shoot towards “any noise coming from anywhere” as he calmly kept guarding people, “shooting and shooting and shooting”.
“We couldn't even breathe from the smoke and the bullets flying everywhere. When he would run out of bullets, we were not sure if he had left because there was silence. He came back and he started shooting again. Those people who came out from [hiding], he shot them again. Because we didn't know he was coming back”, Fouda went on to say.
He added that the shooter sprayed bullets into the piles of bodies, and that “thanks to God he [the killer] did not know where we were”. Fouda said he still cannot believe that he is alive.
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“You are one family. I would like to send my sincere condolences to all New Zealanders. [Friday] was a war against all Muslims but I considerate it [a war] against all New Zealand and New Zealanders”, he pointed out, urging people to stand up against terrorism and against what he described as a “war against peace”.
Fouda spoke alongside fellow Christchurch imam Alabi Lateef Zirullah, who survived the Linwood Mosque massacre and told the Herald that he asked “brothers” to go down right after the shooting began.
“No one listened to me until unfortunately he came from behind and he shot one of our brothers [in] the head through the window. He saw him standing and shot him [through] the window. When glass got broken and the brother fell down, everyone realised to go down”, Zirullah explained.
He also said that he cannot believe that he managed to survive the bloodshed.
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The two imams’ remarks came after New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Saturday that the gunman intended to continue his attack when he was apprehended by police officers.
She added that 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant was in custody 36 minutes after the police received the first call about the massacre which left at least 50 people dead and 48 more injured.