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Syrian father, son remembered as New Zealand holds first funerals for shooting victims

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Syrian father, son remembered as New Zealand holds first funerals for shooting victims

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Nick Perry, Juliet Williams and Kristen Gelineau, Associated Press
Published 1:40 a.m. ET March 20, 2019

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the terror suspect sought notoriety, “but we in New Zealand will give him nothing.”
USA TODAY

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand – A father and son who fled the civil war in Syria for “the safest country in the world” were buried before hundreds of mourners Wednesday, the first funerals for victims of shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that horrified a nation known for being welcoming and diverse.

The funerals of Khalid Mustafa, 44, and Hamza Mustafa, 15, came five days after a proclaimed white supremacist methodically gunned down 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch – a massacre that he broadcast live on Facebook.

Hamza’s high school principal described the student as compassionate and hardworking, and said he was an excellent horse rider who aspired to be a veterinarian.

Those present included Hamza’s younger brother, 13-year-old Zaed, who was wounded in an arm and a leg during the attack. The boy tried to stand during the ceremony but had to sit back in his wheelchair, one mourner said.

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“We tried to not shake his hand, and not touch his hand or his foot, but he refused, he wanted to shake everybody’s hand, he wanted to show everyone that he appreciated them. And that’s amazing,” said Jamil El-Biza, who traveled from Australia to attend the funeral.

The Mustafas had moved to New Zealand last year, after spending six years as refugees in Jordan. Mustafa’s wife, Salwa, told Radio New Zealand that when the family asked about New Zealand they were told “it’s the safest country in the world, the most wonderful country you can go … you will start a very wonderful life there.”

She added, “But it wasn’t.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the family should have been safe.

“I cannot tell you how gutting it is to know that a family came here for safety and for refuge,” she said.

Families of those killed had been anxiously awaiting word on when they could bury their loved ones. Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police have now formally identified and released the remains of 21 of those killed. Islamic tradition calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible.

The burials began soon after Ardern renewed her call for people to speak of the victims rather than the man who killed them.

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Also on Wednesday, a man accused of sharing video footage of Friday’s massacre was jailed by a judge until his next court appearance in mid-April. And Bush said he believes police officers stopped the gunman on his way to a third attack.

Ardern’s plea against giving the accused gunman notoriety followed his move to represent himself in court, raising concerns he would attempt to use the trial as a platform for airing his racist views.

During a visit Wednesday to the high school Hamza and another victim attended, Ardern revisited that thought and asked students not to say the attacker’s name or dwell on him.

“Look after one another, but also let New Zealand be a place where there is no tolerance for racism,” she told students at Cashmere High School. “That’s something we can all do.”

Another Cashmere student, 14-year-old Sayyad Milne, also died in the attack.

About 30 people wounded in the attacks remained hospitalized as of Tuesday evening. About 10 of them were in critical condition, including a 4-year-old girl.

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