Day of worship transformed by a gunman who never ran, never look panicked and 'was not afraid’, Elizabeth Binning reports.

When Nour Tavis arrived at the Al Noor mosque on Friday he stopped in the carpark where he always met his friend.

It was about 1.30pm and the pair chatted outside, as they always did, before heading inside to pray.

But this time was to be different. Little did he, or any of the other 200 worshippers, have any idea of the horror that was about to unfold during a prayer session.

As Tavis settled into the front row with his friend, a man who would go on to fatally shoot 50 people and injure dozens more was parking his stationwagon in a little space to the right of the mosque.


The gunman armed himself. He then left his car — the boot filled with more arsenal and open for easy access — and walked a short distance along Deans Ave into the mosque carpark.

As he walked towards the front door he lifted his gun and started shooting. It was 1.40pm.

Moments later Mohamad Jama saw the short gunman — who wearing a helmet, glasses, and military-style clothing — enter Al Noor Mosque. He was armed with a large, black automatic weapon.

Masjid Al Noor Mosque shooting survivor Nour Tavis resting at his Christchurch home. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Masjid Al Noor Mosque shooting survivor Nour Tavis resting at his Christchurch home. Photo / Mark Mitchell

At first, Jama thought the guns might have been fake or toy. The gunman had five cartridges on a belt, and one loaded in the gun.

Jama grabbed him by the arm and said: "What do you do, where are you going? This is a mosque."

The gunman did not say anything. He instead aimed at Jama and pull the trigger. A bullet whizzed past his left ear. The rampage then began.

"He started killing people one by one."

Terrified, Jama ran for his life and hid. He saw others fleeing over fences and high walls.


A minute after the shooting began police received the first 111 call.

Further inside the mosque, Imam Gamal Fouda was five minutes into delivering his sermon.

From his elevated pulpit he looked down the long access hallway in front of him from where the noise of what sounded like three gunshots rang out.

Fouda wondered if it was some of the youngsters playing around or something coming from the mosque sound system.

Then there was another shot fired, this time closer, and an Algerian man yelled, "Yeah. Shooting!"

Tarika Chenafa was inside listening to Fouda when he heard the first shot.

Linwood Mosque Imam Alabi Lateef Zirullah, left, and Al Noor Mosque Imam Gamal Fouda, in Christchurch. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Linwood Mosque Imam Alabi Lateef Zirullah, left, and Al Noor Mosque Imam Gamal Fouda, in Christchurch. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He jumped up, broke a window and escaped.

Inside, Tavis and his friend, had also taken a moment to comprehend what was happening.

Tavis saw Chenafa smash the window and jump out. Many of those on the right-hand side of the mosque followed Chenafa to the window.

"It was the only way to escape," he said. "I followed ... it was the safest place to get out."

Those on the left side weren't as fortunate. They fell on each other and piled on top of each other as the gunman stormed the room.

"He was just standing and aiming at them," said Fouda, the imam.

As the bullets ran out, the gunman left.

Thinking he had gone for good, some worshippers emerged from their hiding places.

The gunman had only gone to restock from his open boot, which also contained two jerrycans of petrol.

Armed with new weapons and more ammunition the gunman calmly re-entered the mosque to resume his slaughter. Witnesses later described how he never ran. Never looked panicked.

"He was not afraid," said Jama, the ex-president of the mosque who had challenged him when he entered the first time.

One person inside who was trying to phone 111 was spotted and shot.

The gunman worked through several rooms, shooting anyone who was moving. Often he shot at the dead.

Man, woman or child, anyone in his sight was shot.

Shihadeh Nasasrah, 63, tried to flee through a door but was shot. He then spent terrifying minutes lying underneath two dying men as the gunman kept firing.

"Panic spread all over the place," he said. "Some started saying Allahu Akbar (God is great). We scrambled to leave toward a second door that leads to a hall and then to the street, but the bullets brought us down."

"Two people came on top of me, and he (the gunman) approached us and opened fire. Both were killed and I felt them dying," Nasasrah said. "I felt their blood. I myself was shot and I thought 'I'm dying'."

Back the in main mosque room the imam hid with others. He feels lucky to have escaped with his life.

People lay flowers at the wall of flowers at the Botanic Gardens, the official memorial site for the Christchurch mosque shootings. Photo / Getty Images
People lay flowers at the wall of flowers at the Botanic Gardens, the official memorial site for the Christchurch mosque shootings. Photo / Getty Images

He assumes the shooter didn't know the women were also hiding in a separate room, something that saved their lives. Those who did try to flee the mosque were gunned down.

"Still I can't believe that I am alive," Fouda said.

As the shooting continued Noor Hamzah, 54, managed to run outside, with scores of others. They hid behind cars in the rear carpark.

When the gunman finally left, the survivors emerged.

It was 1.47pm and armed police had arrived, six minutes after the first 111 call.

While they stormed the building, Hamzah emerged from the rear carpark and could see bodies lying at the front entrance. He said he looked through the mosque windows and saw "piles of bodies".

Jama said there were bodies and wounded worshippers lying on the ground.

One woman had been executed with a bullet to the head. One man passed him a dying 3-year-old to hold.

As the horror of the ordeal started to sink in, the gunman made a short drive to the Linwood Mosque, where about 80 worshippers were listening to prayer leader Alabi Lateef Zirullah.

The gunman stepped out of his car and gunned down a man and his wife.

Zirullah was inside when the shooting started. It was about 1.55pm when he heard a voice outside the mosque and stopped the prayer he was leading and peeked out the window.

He initially assumed the man in black military-style gear and a helmet holding a large gun was a police officer. Then he saw two bodies and heard the gunman yelling obscenities.

"I realised this is something else. This is a killer," he said.

He yelled at the congregation to get down. They hesitated. A shot rang out, a window shattered and a body fell, and people began to realise it was for real.

"No-one listened to me until unfortunately he came from behind and he shot one of our brothers [in] the head through the window ... When glass got broken and the brother fell down, everyone realised to go down."

Zirullah rushed outside, along with fellow worshipper Abdul Aziz, who picked up a credit card machine, yelling "come here".

The gunman ran back to his car to get another gun and Aziz hurled the credit card machine at him.

"I realised this is something else. This is a killer."

The gunman returned firing and as Zirullah tried to lock the main door to keep the worshippers inside safe, Aziz, whose two children aged 11 and 5 were still inside, weaved through parked cars as the gunman fired shots at him.

Aziz then spotted the gunman's discarded gun, picked it up and squeezed the trigger but it was empty.

The gunman ran back to the car for a second time, likely to grab yet another weapon.

"He gets into his car and I just got the gun and threw it on his window like an arrow and blasted his window," Aziz said.

The windshield shattered.

He said the gunman was cursing at him, yelling that he was going to kill them all. But he drove away and Aziz said he chased the car down the street to a red light, before it made a U-turn and sped away.

Zirullah then started calling emergency services and tried to help the dying and wounded.

By now officers were looking for the gunman who had left a city in fear.

Two officers, who would later be described as heroes, had been in an AOS training session when they heard there was an active shooter in the city.

They climbed into a car and decided to skirt the city rather than going into the city centre — thinking that's what the gunman was likely to do.

Heading down Brougham St they spotted a car weaving in and out of the lanes with hazard lights on. A quick check of the registration and the officers knew they had found the gunman.

After a U-turn they discussed tactics, considering several options like a pursuit before quickly deciding the to bring the deadly situation to an end by ramming the car there and then.

A member of the public who watched the drama unfolded captured the moment officers slammed into the driver's door. The car went up slightly on its side and with the wheels still spinning.

The officers can be seen on the video running to the passenger side of the car and dragging the gunman out through the window.

He was in custody 36 minutes after he started killing.

By this stage the wounded had begun arriving at Christchurch hospital.

Christchurch Hospital Head of Surgery Greg Robertson speaks to the media about the treatment of the mosque shooting victims. / CNN

Tarika Chenafa, who had broken the window at the first mosque, arrived with his friend. There they warned staff many more would follow.

And they did. They came in cars, bloodied and shocked. The ambulances came later.

It was around 2pm when chief of surgery Greg Robertson heard sirens from his office.

As armed police swarmed the hospital, Robertson rushed to the emergency department where dozens of people would be assessed, treated and taken into surgery.

The majority were males and most of the shooting injuries were to the abdomen and chest.

By the end of the day 49 people had been confirmed dead and 47 were being treated in hospital. One of the injured later died and another death was confirmed yesterday morning when another body was found inside the Al Noor mosque.

Many remain in hospital as those left behind try to deal with the aftermath of New Zealand's worst shooting and prepare to bury the dead.