New Zealand police revealed Wednesday that the gunman who shot and killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch last Friday planned to attack a third target.
“We strongly believe we stopped him on the way to a further attack, so lives were saved,” Commissioner Mike Bush told reporters at a press conference in Christchurch.
The suspect, who has been charged with murder, attacked the Masjid Al Noor mosque near the center of the city, killing dozens of people, then got in his car and drove a few miles to the Linwood Islamic Centre. He was arrested soon after, but authorities say he would have continued his attack had he not been stopped.
Bush declined to give further details about the location of the third target, or whether it was another mosque, so as not to “traumatize others.”
The revelation came as the first victims of the atrocity were buried Wednesday. Khalid Mustafa, 44, and his 15-year-old son, Hamza Mustafa, who had arrived in New Zealand from Syria last year, were the first to be buried.
A boy of 3, born in New Zealand to Somali refugee parents, was also buried.
However, families of some of the victims have voiced frustration at the delay in releasing the bodies. Postmortems have been completed on all 50 victims, but just 30 bodies have been released so far.
There are still 29 people in the hospital as a result of injuries suffered in the attacks, with eight of them in critical condition.
Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern said Wednesday she understood the frustration of the families given that Islamic funerals typically take place as soon as possible after death, but she added that she had “seen those who are working on this process as well and I can also acknowledge that they are working incredibly hard too.”
Ardern announced that the country would hold a two-minute time of silence Friday to honor those who died in the attacks, and that the Islamic call to prayer would be broadcast on public TV and radio stations as a show of support for the Muslim community.
The Al Noor mosque announced it would hold Friday prayers this week, one week after the gunman killed 42 people there.
“We are going to prayer here on Friday,” Imam Gamal Fouda, the mosque’s religious leader, told the New Zealand Herald. “The majority of people, including myself, we decided to come and prayer close to our site. We will never forsake it to please those people who actually attacked us.”
As New Zealand continues to mourn the worst terrorist attack in its history, terrorist organizations are seeking to use the attack to their advantage.
Islamic State spokesperson Abu Hassan Al Muhajir issued a 44-minute speech Tuesday calling on supporters to seek revenge.
“The scenes of the massacres in the two mosques should wake up those who were fooled, and should incite the supporters of the caliphate to avenge their religion,” he said.
This was the first statement in six months from Al Muhajir, a recluse so secretive that no one knows what he looks like, highlighting the significance of the speech.
Cover image: Mourners attend a funeral for a victim of the two mosque attacks at the Memorial Park cemetery in Christchurch on March 20, 2019. (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)