Muslim World Decries Islamophobia After 49 Killed in New Zealand Mosque Shootings

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat denounces 'use of religion for political ends' as Hamas declares 'terrorism knows no religion'

Muslims shout slogans as they condemn the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, after Friday prayers at the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 15, 2019.
\ MOHAMMAD PONIR HOSSAIN/ REUTER

Political and Islamic leaders expressed their disgust at the deadly shooting at two mosques in New Zealand on Friday, with some citing rising "Islamophobia" as responsible.

As governments in Asia and the Middle East scrambled to find out how many of their citizens had been caught up in the bloodshed in the city of Christchurch, there was also anger that the attackers targeted worshippers at Friday prayers. 

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"I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11 (where) 1.3 billion Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror," Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan posted on social media. 

A police officer is seen after reports that several shots had been fired at a mosque, in central Christchurch, New Zealand March 15, 2019.
\ REUTERS TV/ REUTERS

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged leaders to take measures against what he called the "dangerous trend" of Muslims being targets of attacks, particularly in Western societies. 

"It is clear that the perception represented by the murderer [in New Zealand] ... has started to swiftly take over Western societies like a cancer," Erdogan said. "We urge the whole world, the Western countries in particular, to take urgent measures against such dangerous trend."

Officials from the Palestinian Authority and Hamas joined in sharply condemning the attacks. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he extends his "prayers and tears" to the families of the victims. Erekat denounced the "use of religion for political ends" on Twitter Friday, recalling past attacks targeting places of worship, including Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein's massacre of Palestinian worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron, and the assault on a Pittsburgh synagogue last year.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, called the carnage in New Zealand "a heinous crime against worshippers in their mosques." Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the attack confirmed "that terrorism knows no religion...it's the result of incitement against Islam and Muslims."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the attack was a deliberate demonizing of Muslim political struggles. 

"Not only the perpetrators, but also politicians & media that fuel the already escalated Islamophobia and hate in the West, are equally responsible for this heinous attack," he wrote on Twitter. 

In a statement, Al-Azhar University, Egypt's 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islamic learning, said the attacks had "violated the sanctity of the houses of God."

"We warn the attack is a dangerous indicator of the dire consequences of escalating hate speech, xenophobia, and the spread of Islamophobia."

More had to be done to promote the co-existence of different religions and cultures, the university said. 

It was a sentiment echoed by United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash. 

"Our collective work against violence and hate must continue with renewed vigour," he said. 

Muslims shout slogan as they condemn Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, after Friday prayers at the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 15, 2019.
\ Mohammad Ponir Hossain/ REUTER

Search for victims

New Zealand police said 49 people were killed. Three men and one woman were in custody and one man had been charged with murder. 
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said some of the victims may have been new immigrants and refugees. 

"They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand," she said. 

A city of about 400,000 people, Christchurch has a significant Islamic community, including overseas students. 

Indonesia's ambassador to New Zealand, Tantowi Yahya, told Reuters six Indonesians had been inside one of the mosques when the attack occurred, with three managing to escape and three unaccounted for. 

There are 331 Indonesians in Christchurch, including 134 students, the foreign ministry said. 

"Indonesia strongly condemns this shooting act, especially at a place of worship while a Friday prayer was ongoing," Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a statement. 

Afghanistan's ambassador to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, Wahidullah Waissi, said on Twitter three Afghans had been wounded. 

Two Malaysians were also wounded in the attack, its foreign ministry said. 

Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Shahriar Alam said it was "extremely lucky" the country's cricket team did not suffer casualties. The team, in the city to play a match against the New Zealand national team, arrived for Friday prayers as the shooting occurred. 

"I can't even imagine what would have happened if they were there five minutes earlier," he said on social media. 

'Terrorist attack'

Ordinary people expressed their horror about a live, point-of-view video posted online that appeared to be one of the shooters killing any person he came across in a mosque with an automatic assault rifle. 

The video has yet to be confirmed by authorities as being posted by a shooter involved in the attack. 

"Feeling very sick, that person is brainless and a savage," said one Indonesian twitter user who identified himself as Farhan Adhitama. 

Others complained that authorities and the media were slow to label the perpetrators as "terrorists." "This is a terrorist act. Come on now," Aszafirah Zafyrah posted on Facebook in Singapore. 

"Why is it not called terrorism when Muslims are killed," said Mohammad Hanif, a government employee in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital. "You should be fair enough to call it so." 

By Friday afternoon, Ardern said the incident was a "terrorist" attack. 
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Australian national arrested after the attack was an "extremist, right wing violent terrorist."