A five-time namazi poignantly recalls what happened in those first few anxious moments inside Al Noor Mosque, including his escape in a nearby home until the arrival of police, confirming that he has ultimately survived what is largely agreed as the most heinous hate-crime that modern New Zealand has seen.
Ali Bhai, as his friends and family members fondly call him, a devoted worshipper at Al-Noor masjid, was there for Jummah prayers and was able to escape uninjured however the incident has forever etched a traumatic memory.
“I had one clear thought, and that was to simply get out of there,” Ali recalled.
At Hagley Community Centre, The Indian Weekender spoke to Ali, who was there to provide support to his community.
He recounted the first moment when he heard the sound in the mosque and had an absolute clarity in his mind that it was a gun-shot and nothing else.
“It sounded like blasts, not crackers,” he said.
Ali was not only a regular attendee but had also his own special spot - in the front of the mosque on the right side, entering and exiting from the same entrance, every single time.
When he heard gunshots, he broke his prayer, and found other worshippers in a confused state as well, Ali recalled.
“I climbed over them and fled from the exit door into the car park. Few others followed suit, but gunshots kept getting louder… the only escape was to climb over the cars, and jump over the fence, into the neighbour’s house,” he said.
Ali acknowledged the promptness of his Kiwi neighbour who took him in, along with other fleeing survivors. He found that two of them had already been shot — one in the leg, one in the back — and were bleeding.
The neighbour handed him his phone and so Ali Bhai became one of the early survivors who rang the police for help.
But chaos continued to persist…
Ali said that for the first ten minutes no one answered on 111.
An automated message played asking him to stay online.
When the police responded, bullets were still firing in the background, he said.
He was assured that help would reach them and was put on hold.
The phone operator asked about injuries and instructed him to apply pressure to the gun wounds.
Ali remembers, “Those two shot and taking rescue in the neighbouring house were regular namazis. We saw the exact wound, the bullet had gone straight through his leg.”
When the firing stopped (which survivors said went on for 20 minutes), the police said that someone would be there to assist and were asked to be informed if conditions changed. Then Ali hung up. Ten minutes later, someone arrived, not in uniform, but said they were undercover police.
They took the two injured and counted a total of 14 survivors in the house. Ali talked about the timeline: “They stayed till 6 p.m., took our photos and details. At 7:30 a police van took us and by 8 p.m. I was home. That’s when I was able to call my family.”
Describing his sentiments around this much-repugnant shooting incident, rightly described by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as the darkest day in the history of NZ, Ali Bhai said “We were a small community. We recognised each other by face and were very close. We may not have known each other's names, but we were all related by our shared humanity. We did fajr in the morning … those people in the video were five-time namazis.”