This article has been updated.
Forty years ago, Haji Daoud Nabi fled war in his native Afghanistan and resettled his family in New Zealand.
In his new home, he would come to run an association welcoming other refugees. He attended Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, where he usually sat in the front row, his son told reporters.
But on Friday, Nabi, 71, was late, so he took a seat in the back — placing him on the front lines of New Zealand’s deadliest mass shooting in recent history.
When a gunman opened fire in the mosque just before evening prayers began, Nabi shielded a family friend from the gunfire, his son told reporters.
The friend survived; Nabi did not.
“There’s no words,” Nabi’s son, Omar Nabi, told the local news organization Newshub. “People were praying, people were praying at their mosque. They got shot in the back. This is not … this is not what humans do.”
At least 50 people were killed Friday in a rampage at two mosques in Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island. The suspect in the attacks, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, of Australia initially was accused of killing 41 people at Al Noor and seven at nearby Linwood Mosque, authorities said. Another victim died at a hospital. On Saturday, the death toll was raised to 50 with the discovery of another body at one of the mosques.
Officials have yet to release the names of the 50 victims, but friends and family members have slowly begun to identify loved ones who were killed. The dead include refugees and immigrants from a number of countries, high school students, young children, academics and leaders of local Muslim organizations.
Government officials have confirmed that at least six Pakistanis, four Jordanians and four Egyptians are among the dead. The Saudi Embassy confirmed that two Saudi citizens were injured, and the family of one later told the news organization Al Arabiya that he had died.
The Red Cross New Zealand is maintaining a list of names online of those who were not initially accounted for. The list is color-coded: orange for those still missing and green for those who have been confirmed to be alive.
Survivors are sharing harrowing stories of those who ran toward danger to save others. In the absence of information from officials, some have learned of their loved ones’ deaths from those who witnessed the mass shooting or saw its aftermath. Others, such as Haji Daoud Nabi’s family members, confirmed that their relatives or friends were dead by watching a video of the massacre, which was live-streamed by the shooter.
Several students from a local high school had been excused from class to attend Friday prayers, school officials said in a statement. One boy, Sayyad Milne, 14, was at Al Noor when the shooting began.
“I’ve lost my little boy,” his father, John Milne, told the New Zealand Herald. “I haven’t heard officially yet that he’s actually passed, but I know he has, because he was seen."
Milne said someone had seen Sayyad — whom he called a “brave little soldier” — on the mosque floor, bleeding.
“It’s so hard … to see him just gunned down by someone who didn’t care about anyone or anything,” Milne told the Herald. “I know where he is. I know he’s at peace.”
Two members of one Syrian refugee family were killed and a third was injured, the organization Syrian Solidarity New Zealand confirmed. Khaled Mustafa and his son Hamza, 14, were killed, the organization said. Another son, Zaid, 13, underwent a six-hour operation and does not yet know that his father and brother are dead.
Mustafa came to New Zealand with his wife, two sons and a daughter in 2018, Syrian Solidarity said.
“It is deeply saddening that these refugees have come all the way from Syria to New Zealand, thinking that it was a safe haven,” Ali Akil of Syrian Solidarity told Newshub. “They escaped death and torture in Syria, to come to New Zealand, and be killed here.”
The shooting’s youngest victim was Mucad Ibrahim, 3, who was at Al Noor with his brother and father when the shooting began. On Facebook, his brother, Abdi, wrote that he was “energetic, playful and liked to smile and laugh a lot.”
When the shooting started, he ran toward the gunman as his family members ran in different directions in the chaos, said Mohamud Hassan, a member of the Somali community.
The family had fled Somalia decades ago as refugees and resettled in New Zealand.
“You cannot imagine how I feel,” Abdulrahman Hashi, Mucad’s uncle, who lives in Minneapolis, told The Post. “He was the youngest in the family.”
Adeeb Sami’s trip to New Zealand was supposed to be joyful — a chance for the Dubai-based father to surprise his twin children in time for their birthday. Instead, the 52-year-old dived in front of his two sons to protect them from the gunman, then faced surgery to remove a bullet from his spine, Gulf News reported.
“My dad is a real hero,” Sami’s daughter, Heba, told Gulf News on Friday. “He got shot in the back near his spine in an attempt to shield my brothers, but he didn’t let anything happen to them.”
Heba told the Dubai-based news outlet that she lost five family friends, including a 12-year-old boy, in the attack.
The gunman live-streamed the attack on social media. The video shows that the attacker approached the entrance to the mosque and raised his weapon. One man tried to greet him, calling out “Hello, brother.” Then the gunman opened fire. In addition to the 50 killed at the two mosques, dozens of others were wounded or are missing.
Shafiqur Rahman Bhuiyan, honorary consul for Bangladesh in Auckland, New Zealand, told the Associated Press that at least three Bangladeshis were among those killed and that others were wounded. “One leg of an injured [person] needed to be amputated, while another suffered bullet injuries in his chest,” he said.
On Facebook, a user named Alta Marie said her husband, Zulfirman Syah, and her son were both shot at the second mosque attacked, the Linwood Islamic Center. “I was recently united with my son, who has a gunshot wound to the leg and backside,” she wrote. “He is traumatized, but we are all alive.”
Asim Mukhtar, secretary general of the Pakistan Association of New Zealand, told The Post in a phone call that Al Noor is the largest mosque in Christchurch and that the shooting started 15 minutes before Friday prayers, when many people were still in the parking lot or walking toward the mosque. If the shooting had started mid-prayer, he thinks the death toll would have been higher.
“This is a time of distress, we are in disarray, we don’t know why this has happened,” he said. “This is probably the last thing on our mind living in New Zealand that this will ever happen.”
“We are really not feeling safe at the moment,” he added.
Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said the confirmed Pakistani dead included 48-year-old Naeem Rashid and his 21-year-old relative, Talha Naeem, the Associated Press reported.
Yasmin Ali told New Zealand’s 1 News that she lost a close family friend whom she loved like a grandfather. Now she fears she could be targeted just for wearing her headscarf in public.
“Family friends that we’ve known for 19 years — dead. People who were there for my engagement — dead,” Ali told the news outlet. “You don’t think something like this can happen in New Zealand, in Christchurch, of all places.”
Alexandra Baumhardt in Minneapolis and Kareem Fahim in Istanbul contributed to this report.
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the youngest victim of the shooting at Al Noor Mosque. His name and age have been updated.