SYDNEY – The first burials took place for some of the 50 victims of the Christchurch terror attack Wednesday as New Zealand’s prime minister announced plans to mark one week since the mosque killings.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said 30 victims’ bodies had been approved for release to their families.
Twelve of them had already been handed over to their relatives to carry out traditional rites and burials.
The first funerals – of Syrian refugees Khaled Mustafa and his teenage son Hamza Mustafa, who died at Al Noor mosque – took place after midday at Memorial Park Cemetery in Linwood, according to national broadcaster TVNZ.
The funerals coincided with Ardern’s visit to Christchurch, where she met with family members, community groups, classes from a school that lost students, and emergency services staff.
Ardern announced at a news conference that on Friday two minutes’ silence would be held for the victims.
“I know from many there is a desire to show support to the Muslim community as they return to mosques, particularly on Friday. There is also a desire from New Zealanders to mark the week that has passed since the terror attack,” she said.
“To acknowledge this there will be a two-minute silence on Friday. We will also broadcast nationally via TVNZ and Radio New Zealand the call to prayer,” she said, adding that more details would follow.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush Wednesday said police knew where the main suspect was heading when he was apprehended on Friday.
“We absolutely believe we know where he was going and we intervened on the way,” he said.
“We strongly believe we stopped him on the way to a further attack, so lives were saved,” he said, adding he would not go into details that risked traumatizing others, and the information will “form part of the court case.”
Bush also corrected the previously reported police response time.
“I have previously said the offender was in our custody within 36 minutes. I have now been made aware that, while we had the offender in custody at the Justice Precinct within 36 minutes, it in fact only took 21 minutes from the first 111 call for the offender to be apprehended at the roadside by the two officers,” he said.
Meanwhile, Philip Arps, 44, appeared in a Christchurch court on two charges of distributing the shooter’s live streamed video. He was remanded in custody until his next court appearance on April 15.