'It was not my time yet': Malaysian survivor recounts horrific Christchurch mosque shooting

'It was not my time yet': Malaysian survivor recounts horrific Christchurch mosque shooting

Christchurch mosque shooting Malaysian survivor
Noor Hamzah outside the supermarket near his home. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

CHRISTCHURCH: When Malaysian Noor Hamzah, 54, left home on Friday afternoon (Mar 15) to go for his prayers at Al Noor mosque, he didn't think too much about it. 

After all it was a weekly affair, something he'd done in his white jubba - a kind of Middle Eastern robe - for the past 20 years without incident while living in New Zealand. 

Once Noor was done with prayers, he would head to his favourite Asian market to shop for groceries, before getting home by about 4pm.

But this Friday was different. It would turn out to be the worst mass killing in the peace-loving nation's history. Noor's jubba would be stained by blood. And he would almost never make it home.

READ: Christchurch mosque shootings: 49 dead, dozens injured in terrorist attack

At the mosque, Noor sat on the floor in the first row of the congregation. The imam started giving his sermon, and Noor admitted he was not paying attention. Barely five minutes in, he was jolted by the sound of rapid gunfire coming from the back.

"Bang, bang, bang! It was really loud," he told Channel NewsAsia on Saturday, a few blocks down from the mosque, where mourners crowded the police blockade and left a huge pile of flowers. 

Noor realised it was a shooting after just a few shots. His mind kicked into "survival mode", and he ran towards the side doors. Everybody else started running too.

"You don’t think about anything else, but to survive at that point of time," he said. "You just run and run. The adrenaline is over the top."

Christchurch mosque shooting Al Noor mosque
There was still heavy police presence near the mosque. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

As Noor charged out of the mosque and into the car park, he recalled pushing a man in a wheelchair to safety. He parked the man behind a car and ran some more, until he was almost at the mosque's perimeter wall.

But Noor didn't dare run out for fear of being spotted, so he crouched behind a car and kept his head low. All while gunshots thundered overhead. "Everybody was hiding," he said. "Nobody wanted to be seen."

Soon another man ran toward him - his shirt soaked with blood - and crouched beside him, staining his jubba. Noor started calling his daughter, brother and friends, some of whom were back in Malaysia. "If I die here, at least somebody knows," he said.

READ: 'It's taking too long’: Anxious families await news of missing loved ones caught in Christchurch attack

PILED UP BODIES

After about 20 minutes and what sounded like 100 rounds, the shooting stopped, replaced by police sirens ringing through the air.

Noor said heavily armed police stormed the car park and shouted for everyone to lay prone. After police secured the area, paramedics rushed in and Noor and the rest were escorted out.

In the car park, he saw two bodies sprawled on the ground, one older than the other. Noor recognised the older man as he was known in the community for leading prayers and solemnising marriages. 

"Paramedics were checking on them, but did not do anything," he said. "They concentrated on the injured."

Christchurch mosque shooting flowers
The blockade at Deans Avenue became a place where well-wishers left their tributes. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

The devastation truly hit home when Noor looked through shattered windows and into the mosque, where he saw bodies piled up. He estimated that there were about 40  people there, killed in the brutal attack.

In front of the mosque, and even along the road, he saw at least five more bodies. "People probably ran quite far, but still got shot," he said.

READ: Extremist appears in court charged with New Zealand mosque attack

Noor and the rest were asked to assemble at Hagley Park, adjacent to the mosque, for about half an hour. When a police officer took his statement, he could see that the officer was visibly shaken. "It was the first time that something like this had happened," Noor said.

Police then led the victims to Christchurch hospital, the "safest place" they could think of, for further assessment. Along the way, officers checked every parked car, wary of the possibility of additional shooters.

Noor had escaped unscathed, so he left the hospital and got home by the evening. It was only then that the horror of what happened truly sank in. 

"I still have duties on this earth, I suppose," he said. "There are people who have been invited (by God) to return home. A lot of them were my acquaintances."

That night, Noor said he could not sleep as the events kept playing in his mind. He was also kept awake by the multiple calls and texts checking if he was safe.

"LIKE A REUNION"

On Saturday afternoon, Noor attended a condolence meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, together with other victims' friends and family. 

READ: Christchurch shootings: What we know so far about the terror attack

He saw other survivors he recognised and hugged them, relieved that they were alive. "It was like a reunion," he said, smiling.

There was more good news. Noor discovered that the man in the wheelchair had survived too. "He told me he hid there and just stayed quiet," he said. "He left it to God, if it was his time to die.

"It was not my time yet."

Christchurch mosque shooting tributes
People leaving flowers near the site of the massacre. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

That evening Noor returned to the scene, but the nearest he could get to the mosque was the police blockade on Deans Avenue. After taking some photos of the flowers and cards left there, he cycled for 20 minutes to a supermarket near his home.

He was looking for some eggs, but stopped to chat with a worker who was stocking the aisles. Noor, a supermarket worker himself, ended the conversation by hugging her.

He was able to go home again.

Source: CNA/hz

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