Christchurch, Mar 20 (AP/UNB) — 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 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.
"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.
Four other burials were under way on Wednesday evening. Those victims include Junaid Ismail, Ashraf Ali and Lilik Abdul Hamid. The fourth victim's name was suppressed by court order.
The burials began soon after Ardern renewed her call for people to speak of the victims rather than the man who killed them.
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. Around 10 of them were in critical condition, including a 4-year-old girl.
Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian man, has been charged with murder and is next scheduled to appear in court on April 5. Police have said they are certain Tarrant was the only gunman but are still investigating whether he had support from others.
Ardern previously has said reforms of New Zealand's gun laws would be announced next week and she said an inquiry would be convened to look into the intelligence and security services' failures to detect the risk from the attacker or his plans.
New Zealand's international spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, confirmed it had not received any relevant information or intelligence before the shootings.
Philip Arps, 44, appeared in a Christchurch court Wednesday on two charges of distributing the killer's livestream video of the attack on the Al Noor mosque, the first mosque that was attacked, a violation of the country's objectionable publications law. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
Arps, heavily tattooed and dressed in a T-shirt and sweatpants, hasn't entered a plea. He remained expressionless during the hearing, his hands clasped behind his back.
Judge Stephen O'Driscoll denied him bail.
Charging documents accuse Arps of distributing the video on Saturday, one day after the massacre.
Most details of bail hearings are suppressed under New Zealand law. The judge made an additional suppression order regarding the police summary of facts in the case, limiting reporting of the accusations to the charges themselves.
Bush, the police commissioner, said they believe they know where the gunman was going for a third attack when officers rammed his car off the road but won't say more because it's an active investigation.
In a 74-page manifesto he released before the attack, Tarrant said he was going to attack two mosques in Christchurch and then one in the town of Ashburton if he made it that far.
Bush also revised his timeline, saying officers rammed the suspect's car 21 minutes after the first emergency call, rather than 36 minutes. Bush said FBI agents have traveled to New Zealand to help with the investigation.
Abizar Valibhai, of Christchurch, said Wednesday's burials marked an important moment.
"It's not only for the Muslim community, but for the whole of New Zealand, and the world as well," he said. "If we don't show our support at this time, when are we going to show it?"
He said there would be many waves of emotions to come for the families of the victims.
"They are fathers, they are mothers, they are brothers, they are sisters, they are wives," he said. "There are a lot of things that will be shattered."
Moscow, Mar 20 (AP/UNB) — Kazakhstan has sworn in Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as interim president a day after longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned.
Tokayev, a career diplomat who had been senate speaker, can serve the remainder of Nazarbayev's term ahead of scheduled elections next year.
Nazarbayev surprised many by announcing in a televised address Tuesday that he would step down after nearly 30 years, making Tokayev only the second president in the country's independent history.
Nazarbayev attended Tokayev's inauguration Wednesday, entering to lengthy applause from assembled dignitaries before taking a seat on a podium above and behind the lectern where Tokayev gave an address.
Nazarbayev, whom Tokayev praised as "an outstanding reformer," will remain influential as chairman of the security council and head of the ruling party.
Quetta, Mar 20 (AP/UNB) — Pakistani authorities say militants overran a remote security outpost in southwestern Baluchistan province, killing six members of the paramilitary forces.
The Pakistani Taliban — known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan — claimed responsibility for the attack in Ziarat district early on Wednesday morning, saying in an Urdu-language statement that it was revenge for the deaths earlier of their comrades at the hands of the paramilitary Baluchistan Levies Force.
Qadir Baksh Pirkani, Ziarat district deputy commissioner, said the assault began in the early morning hours and that an investigation into the killing is underway.
Several insurgent groups operate in Baluchistan, including the Pakistani Taliban, a secessionist Baluchistan group and members of an Islamic State affiliate, which is based across the border in Afghanistan.
Guatemala City, Mar 20 (AP/UNB) — A Guatemalan court said Tuesday that an arrest warrant has been issued for a former Guatemalan prosecutor who is running for president.
But because Thelma Aldana was formally registered Tuesday by the election board as a candidate in the June elections, under Guatemalan law she has immunity from prosecution.
Aldana was nominated by the Seed Movement party and is running second in polls.
A spokeswoman for Guatemala's Supreme Court said the warrant against Aldana is related to a corruption investigation. The warrant was issued Monday alleging a form of embezzlement, but authorities have not provided specific details of the charges.
Aldana, 63, was Guatemala's top prosecutor from 2014 to 2018. During that time, she jailed then-President Otto Perez Molina and most of his Cabinet on corruption charges. Perez Molina resigned in 2015.
Christchurch, Mar 20 (AP/UNB) — The leafy New Zealand city where a self-proclaimed racist fatally shot 50 people at mosques during Friday prayers is known for its picturesque meandering river and English heritage. For decades, Christchurch has also been the center of the country's small but persistent white supremacist movement.
An expert on such fringe groups says it's probably more than coincidence that the accused mosque shooter, 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, settled in the region, known for a whiter demographic than the country's north, after frequently traveling abroad in 2016-2018 in what appears to have been an extreme-right pilgrimage.
He went mostly to areas of Europe with a long history of sectarian dispute, including clashes between Renaissance Europe and the Ottoman Empire and the breakup of Yugoslavia following its ethnic and religious conflicts.
The attack has upended New Zealand's image as one of the world's safest and most tolerant countries. It also has highlighted apparent failings by security and intelligence services to view white supremacists as a real threat or to take seriously warnings from Muslim groups of a rise in Islamophobic and xenophobic incidents in recent years.
Tarrant planned his attack on two mosques meticulously and had resolved two years earlier to kill Muslims, according to a manifesto he published moments before the massacre. He actively planned the Christchurch shootings for the past three months, he said in the manifesto posted online and emailed to the office of New Zealand's prime minister minutes before driving to his first target, the golden-domed Al Noor mosque.
Police say they are certain Tarrant was the only gunman but may have had support and are investigating that possibility. He had five guns, two of which were converted into semi-automatic weapons. It's likely that at least some were legally purchased online from a Christchurch gun store.
Possible links between the shooter and white supremacists in New Zealand's south have been alleged by recreational gun user and hunting guide Pete Breidahl.
In a video posted on Facebook on Saturday, he said he complained in late 2017 to an arms officer — a local police officer who monitors people's gun licenses — about the disturbing behavior of members of a rifle club in the southern city of Dunedin that Tarrant reportedly joined.
In the video and comments posted online, Breidahl said the club members had Confederate flags, wore camouflage clothing with rank insignia, vilified Muslims and had homicidal fantasies. He claimed to have met Tarrant, calling him "not right." Police said they have no record of a complaint but are looking into Breidahl's claims further.
Academic Paul Spoonley, who has extensively researched white supremacist groups in New Zealand, said they have been relatively quiet in Christchurch since a 2011 earthquake that forced whole neighborhoods to move and altered the city's demographics with an influx of migrant workers for reconstruction.
"They've been quieter recently but they haven't gone away. They are still here," he said, citing a 2016 incident in which pigs' heads were left at the Al Noor mosque, where 42 people died in Friday's massacre.
A business owner in Christchurch has also attracted media attention since the massacre because his company's vans were emblazoned with neo-Nazi references including the "black sun" symbol that Tarrant's guns were covered with. The same images, which are used as the company's branding, appear on its website.
When AP visited the registered business address, located in one of Christchurch's poorer neighborhoods, three of its vans were parked opposite, their "black sun" imagery removed but still identifiable by a company website address on them. A visibly hostile man standing beside the vans, who did not appear to be the business owner, did not want to answer questions.
Police on Tuesday said they had arrested a 44-year-old man in Christchurch for distributing objectionable material and he would appear in court the next day.
According to Spoonley, the level of hate crimes in New Zealand is low compared with other countries as is the number of white supremacists, but it's "always a challenge to get people to accept that they exist."
"There's a reluctance to see equivalence between the risks presented by right-wing extremist groups and radical Islamic and leftist groups," he said.
Neighboring Australia's white supremacist scene is more virulent, in part reflecting the history of its "White Australia" immigration policy which existed in various forms from soon after Federation in 1901 to as late as 1973. In modern times, the rise of a succession of prominent right-wing politicians — starting with Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party in the mid-1990s — also legitimized such views.
Spoonley estimates there are 200-250 hardcore white supremacists in New Zealand and about 300-400 people on the edges.
"I would be very surprised if Tarrant didn't make some sort of contact," he said.
The groups, which emerged in the late 1960s, have evolved over time, coalescing for years around fear of New Zealand moving too far from its British roots, anti-Semitism and opposition to Maori sovereignty and Asian immigrants, and then shifting to Islamophobia following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S.
Spoonley, who researched extreme-right groups in the U.K. in the 1970s, said when he returned to New Zealand in the 1980s he was told by authorities there were no similar organizations.
But he quickly found more than 70 extreme-right groups, many of them in Christchurch. He attributes three murders in New Zealand since 1989 to white supremacists, including two that were ideologically motivated — a South Korean tourist in 2003 and a homeless gay man in 1999.
As Tarrant plotted more recently, Muslim groups in New Zealand were growing increasingly concerned by a rise in abuse against the community but say they were ignored.
"There has been an increasing trend which has been brought to the attention of the authorities several times in the last three to four years, including police," said Anwar Ghani, a spokesman for a federation of Islamic organizations. "It was treated not so seriously."
Verbal abuse, hate emails, hate phone calls and assaults that seem to have an Islamophobic and racist motivation, or a combination of the two, are among the hate crimes experienced by Muslims in New Zealand, he said.
The country does not have an official hate crimes database, making it difficult to measure the trend, but some incidents have been widely reported, causing outrage but sparking no real official measures.
Ghani said there are dotted lines between Friday's massacre, hostility to Muslims among a segment of the New Zealand population and the global rise of extreme right-wing movements.
"If the issue is not addressed in a proper manner then the problem will continue to increase," he said. "They are getting bolder and bolder."
Paul Buchanan, a former policy analyst and intelligence consultant for U.S. government security agencies, said the failure of intelligence agencies to detect Tarrant reflects politically based decisions to concentrate resources on monitoring the small number of Islamic extremists in New Zealand.
"My interpretation is that in the past 20 years and since 9/11 a political decision was made to prioritize detection and prevention of homegrown jihadists," he said.
"They decided to go whole hog, 80-85 percent of resources into detecting jihadists," he said. "The rest was devoted to Marxists, environmentalists, animal rights activists. They went for the left."
One such jihadi from New Zealand, along with an Australian, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in November 2013 while fighting for al-Qaida.
There was no political advantage in targeting alienated young white men seen by the wider population as mostly harmless "Pakeha losers," a Maori word for white New Zealanders, Buchanan said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the government will convene an inquiry into the intelligence and security services, seeking to understand why Tarrant was able to escape detection.
Tarrant, according to Buchanan, may have been part of a small cell.
"There could be tacit enablers," he said.
"He was planning for two years," Buchanan said. "To be able to do that in utter secrecy suggests someone had to have an inkling that the guy was going to do something and said nothing about it."