Christchurch massacre: Bodies of six victims were released to families

Christchurch: Christchurch massacre victims’ families have been through a harrowing experience as the bodies of the victims were delayed. Of the 50 people killed, six were released to their families today.

Even as dozens of relatives of the deceased have already begun arriving from around the world ahead of expected funerals which have already been delayed far beyond the 24 hours after death usually observed under Islam, the New Zealand police have revealed that only a fraction of the 50 people killed had been fully identified but the delay has angered the relatives as a speedy burial was required under Islamic custom. Forensic delays are casting a cloud over New Zealand’s handling of the horrific ordeal.

According to media reports, only 12 of the 50 victims had been identified. “We are doing all we can to undertake this work as quickly as possible and return the victims to their loved ones,” said a police statement.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed today that the gunman would face the full force of the law. Today also witnessed a sombre session of parliament with an evocative as-salaam alaikum message of peace to Muslims.

The Prime Minister was clad in black and pledged that she would deprive the 28-year-old gunman of the publicity he craved by never uttering his name. “That is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless,” she told assembled lawmakers. “I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them.”

Peter Elms of New Zealand’s immigration department said 65 visas had been granted for overseas family members so far. Christchurch police said post-mortems had been completed on all 50 victims. But only 12 had been “identified to the satisfaction of the coroner” nearly a week after the rampage. Javed Dadabhai, who travelled from Auckland to help bury his cousin, said families and volunteers had been warned of a slow process.

“The majority of people still have not had the opportunity to see their family members,” he told AFP. Mohamed Safi, 23, whose father Matiullah Safi died in Al Noor mosque, pleaded for officials to let him identify his father and set a date for his burial.

“There’s nothing they are offering,” Safi, an Afghan refugee, said outside a family support centre. “They are just saying they are doing their procedures, they are doing their process. But what process? Why do I not know what you are going through to identify the body… Why am I not contacted as an immediate family member?” In a rambling manifesto, the gunman had said he was motivated partly by a desire to stoke a violent response from Muslims and a religious war between Islam and the West. The Islamic State group, in a message on social media, appeared to encourage retaliatory attacks.

“The scenes of killing in the two mosques… incite members of the caliphate living there to avenge their religion and the children of the umma (Muslims) who were are being slaughtered in all corners of the earth with the sponsorship and blessing of the Crusader countries,” it said.

Following the mass shooting, Ardern has promised to reform New Zealand laws that allowed the gunman to legally purchase weapons used in the attack. New Zealanders have already begun answering government appeals to hand in their weapons.

Ardern has said details of the proposed reform will be announced by next week, but she indicated they could include gun buybacks and a ban on some semi-automatic rifles.

The attacker, identified by authorities as Australia-born Brenton Tarrant, 28, targeted immigrants during Friday prayers. Witnesses said victims were shot at close range. He was arrested shortly after entering two mosques –Masjid Al Noor and Linwood – with high-powered weapons and shooting dead 50 people, including five Indians. The New South Wales (NSW) Joint Counter Terrorism Team on Monday two properties on the state’s mid-north coast.

NT Bureau