Survivors thank New Zealanders outside court for their support after news that mosque gunman will never leave jail
Crowds gathered outside Christchurch high court and sang Stand By Me as months of pent-up stress and tension gave way to relief after the sentencing of the mosque gunman to life in prison without parole.
Traditional Māori songs followed, as members of the Muslim community responded with jubilant chants of Allahu Akbar, God is Great.
The shouts and cheers emerged from the mingled crowd as the realisation sank in that the community was safe from a mass murderer who would never walk free.
“Yes I have lost my brother in law but I have now five million brothers and sisters,” one man, Bader Dokhan, told reporters.
Those leaving court waved and made peace signs with their hands, with one young man scattering white rose petals in the air.
Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah, the man who chased the terrorist away from the second mosque, mounted the security barricade outside court to huge cheers, while police snipers guarded the scene from the rooftops.
He had “never forgotten” the support New Zealanders had given him, he said. “We are all brothers and sisters.”
The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said she hoped the victims had “felt the arms of New Zealand around them” and reiterated her commitment to never speaking the terrorist’s name, saying he deserved “a lifetime of complete and utter silence”.
She said like many New Zealanders she had felt “relief to know that person will never see the light of day”.
Deputy prime minister Winston Peters said: “The judgment is the only one that matched the depravity of the terrorist’s crimes against the Islamic community, and its devastating effect on all people living in this country.” He also called for Brenton Tarrant, an Australian, to be deported “to the country that raised him”.
Gamal Fouda, the Al Noor mosque imam who told worshippers to get on the floor when the shooting began, said outside court: “We are the winners and the terrorist is the loser.”
Alisha Siddique said she was satisfied that the man who shot her father “will rot in jail for life”. She added: “We can only heal from here.”
Latef Alabi, who was leading prayers at Linwood mosque when the attack happened, said the terrorist had failed to divide New Zealand and he had made “the best decision of his life” by moving to the country, where “justice had been served”.
“Wherever you come from, you were born the same, the same way we were born. We live the same way, and we die the same way. There is no difference between any one of us. Your identity and behaviour differentiates you.
“It doesn’t matter what colour you are. Today I thank everyone around the world to please, always choose the best, to be kind, to be clean from inside, and you will remain the best until you die.”
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said that while the sentencing was an important milestone in the judicial process, it should not overshadow the incredible determination and survival of victims.
“New Zealand and the world have felt the pain of the Muslim community and the horror of such a hateful and senseless act committed in our own backyard, against our own people,” Coster said.
“We responded to this event with unity and our communities came closer together, which is ultimately what will ensure that all people can be safe and feel safe in this country.”
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said he had called Ardern to convey his relief over Tarrant’s sentence.
“Justice today was delivered to the terrorist and murderer for his cowardly and horrific crimes in Christchurch. It is right that we will never see or hear from him ever again.” Morrison said.
“New Zealand is family to us. Today, we send our love across ‘the ditch’”
Tarrant killed 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March last year.
Judge Mander ruled that he would spend the rest of his life in jail – the first time under current New Zealand law that a sentence of life without the possibility of parole has been imposed.
“You committed mass murder,” said Mander. “You slaughtered unarmed and defenceless people.
“You have offered no apology or public acknowledgement of the harms you have caused,” he added. “While I appreciate that you have forsaken the opportunity to use these proceedings as a platform, you appear neither contrite nor ashamed.”
In the public gallery there was little reaction to Tarrant’s sentencing and he was led away from the docks in silence by four guards.