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New Zealand reels from terror attacks

A streetside memorial near the scene of mosque attacks in New Zealand (Photograph supplied)

New Zealanders based in Bermuda have been left stunned by the terror attacks on mosques that killed 49 people in Christchurch.

Annabel Carter, originally from Christchurch, said yesterday: “This attack is totally unprecedented, anathema to any normal New Zealander.

“It’s a rough time to be in Christchurch.”

Dr Carter, who runs The Centre for Sports & Orthopaedic Medicine in Hamilton, said Christchurch was still recovering from two massive earthquakes that killed hundreds and destroyed much of the city.

She added: “Now to have a senseless act of violence like this is just unbelievable.

“My sister-in-law told me all schools near by the two locations were put on lockdown until 6pm, and that included the preschool they own and run.”

“Everyone is feeling thoroughly traumatised, the outraged consensus being ‘this doesn’t happen here’.”

Dr Carter said: “My sister-in-law commented in mail that everyone is still in shock, especially with the gunman shooting children.”

She added that she had grown up in a hunting and fishing family and had guns in the family home, which was considered normal and people were careful with firearms.

Dr Carter said: “Even with increasing crime rates, New Zealand has remained a generally very safe place.”

Phillipa Souza, also originally from Christchurch, said: “I’m honestly shocked by it all.

“I just would never have thought there would be a terrorist attack in Christchurch.”

But Ms Souza added: “I don’t think anybody thinks it’s possible in their own home town.”

She was speaking yesterday after white supremacist gunmen targeted Muslims at two mosques in the city, on the East Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

Dozens of people were also wounded in the attacks, which were broadcast live on social media for a short period.

Ms Souza said that she had received a text message from her parents at 3am yesterday which said they were under lockdown.

The Spanish Point, Pembroke resident said she had no idea the attacks had happened.

Ms Souza said that she texted her parents back after she learnt of the attacks.

She added: “I just said ‘thank God’.”

Ms Souza, 43, lived in Christchurch until she was 29.

She said she was last back in the city to see her family at Christmas with her husband, Michael, and their daughter, Madison, aged 4. Ms Souza added that Christchurch was a relaxed and easygoing city that was still recovering from massive earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.

She said her thoughts were with the people killed or injured in the attacks.

Ms Souza said: “My heart goes out to everybody, including all the victims’ families, all the first responders, all the hospital staff.

“My heart goes out to the city and the people.”

Hilary Carr, another New Zealander resident in Bermuda, said two of her aunts were in Christchurch when the attacks took place.

The women told her by phone that the city was a “war zone”.

Ms Carr said that her aunts were in the city to visit her uncle, who is in hospital.

She added: “They have so many casualties that they actually had to operate on someone in the ward’s hospital bed, right next to where my uncle was resting from his cancer surgery.”

Ms Carr, 46, is originally from Ashburton, about 53 miles southeast of Christchurch, and moved to Bermuda 14 years ago.

The Paget resident said that she had tried to help her children understand what had happened.

She added: “I’m in absolute disbelief that anything like that could happen and that anyone would actually attack someone in their place of worship.”

Nicola Lucas never imagined terrorist attacks could happen in her home country.

She said: “You hear things like this happening in the big cities and in major countries.

“New Zealand’s kind of a peaceful country, like Bermuda.”

Ms Lucas, 45, from Southampton, is originally from Hawke’s Bay, on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, and moved to Bermuda 20 years ago.

She first learnt of the attacks through social media.

Ms Lucas said: “I thought there’d been another earthquake and wondered, ‘What’s happening in Christchurch?’

“But I looked it up and found out.”

The attacks made her fear for the safety of her family.

Ms Lucas explained: “It kind of makes me think nowhere’s safe any more.

“I have three young kids and I always worry about taking them to the United States.

“I guess I’m now wondering how safe are we anywhere.”

Basim Muwwakkil, the imam at the Masjid Muhammad mosque on Cedar Avenue in Hamilton, said the attacks were “something that rips through your spirit”.

He said that John Rankin, the Governor, and Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, had attended regular Friday prayers to offer support.

Mr Muwwakkil added: “We hope that Bermuda and its people can remain level-headed.

“One of the blessings of Bermuda being a small place is that if one part hurts, everybody hurts. That is one of the things that keeps us together.”

He said that worshippers at the mosque yesterday offered “prayers for the people of New Zealand and the Muslims of New Zealand”.

Mr Muwwakkil expressed thanks for the messages of goodwill that had come from other church leaders.

Radell Tankard, the chairman of the mosque’s board, said it was too early to say if members of Bermuda’s Muslim community had lost loved ones on the other side of the world.

He said: “We have reached out to see if anyone has heard anything. Islam is universal.”

Mr Tankard added: “We really appreciate the prayers of the people who have reached out. We are grateful to know that others are thinking about us.

“We are one society and one community. Our objective is to live in harmony and peace.”

The attacks sparked shock among from MPs in the House of Assembly yesterday.

Dennis Lister Sr, the Speaker of the House, said: “It’s unfortunate that religious freedoms are being challenged all the time.”

Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, associated the rest of the House with “the condolences that go to the people of New Zealand”.

Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, said: “It seems that around the world religion and churches are being unceremoniously attacked.”

He added: “As we look across the seas, I would like to take note that this House remembers the families, remembers New Zealand, because they have taken a strong stance against this.”