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Mourners Gather In New Zealand For Burial Of 26 Terror Victims

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The prime minister of New Zealand attended a mass burial today. Their loved ones said goodbye to 26 people - 26 of the 50 who were killed in a mass shooting. A white nationalist is accused of attacking two mosques. So it was notable when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared at the event wearing a black headscarf. She spoke a bit of Arabic. And in describing the mood of her nation, she read a quote from the prophet Muhammad.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: (Reading) When any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain. New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.

INSKEEP: Those buried included Atta Elayyan. He was the goalkeeper for New Zealand's national soccer team. He played a form of indoor soccer called futsal. His friend Hady Osman told us that sports were just part of the life of a Palestinian immigrant who was a tech entrepreneur, a husband and a new father.

HADY OSMAN: About a year and a half or two years ago, he married Farah. She was a cousin - a remote cousin - in Jordan. And they just had a daughter over a year ago, Aya, who's just a beautiful, beautiful toddler at the moment and who's getting quite naughty and who's - yeah, just growing up really quick.

INSKEEP: Was his family at the mosque, as he was, on the day of the shooting?

OSMAN: His father was, yes. So his father is one of the - I want to say one of the early founders of the mosque, and he used to lead or does lead the prayers quite often. So he's not necessarily the imam of the mosque, but he's one of the leaders of the Muslim community in Christchurch. And both of them were at the mosque on the fated Friday.

Atta's dad was also one of the people impacted. So he was shot twice during the attack, but was able to escape. And he was rushed into hospital, and he's had several surgeries since then. And just this morning, actually, he got discharged, and he was actually able to attend his son's burial.

INSKEEP: Mr. Osman, I know this may be difficult to discuss, but have you been able to learn anything about what your friend Atta's final moments were like?

OSMAN: I've heard multiple reports. He was one of the people that tried to go and tackle the shooter. And I think he got shot once and - which wasn't fatal. And then he got shot a second time, and that was the fatal shot. So that's definitely one of the reports that I understand was relayed to his family. So that's sort of what I've heard at the moment, and I can't say that that's been confirmed because I haven't really read it in a formal report.

INSKEEP: Was there very much sign before this shooting that immigrants, and particularly Muslim immigrants, were not especially welcome in New Zealand?

OSMAN: I think - I mean, like, it's a very small community, especially in Christchurch. And in New Zealand, you know, Muslims make less than 1 percent. Usually, most of the Muslims here have been migrants that have come from far away through, you know, legal immigration methods. So a lot of them are quite well educated or, you know, established people. And as a result, a lot of the Muslims in New Zealand are well integrated with the wider society.

And, you know, you do hear about people that have sort of felt some sort of casual racism every now and then. But I've been here for maybe over 25 years, and I haven't personally encountered any racism towards me. So I'll probably say that wasn't something that anybody expected.

Now, with that said, what's happened has - you know, has started a topic or a discussion about, do we have any of these thoughts or discussions behind closed doors? Does it actually exist, and in what way? And so on.

INSKEEP: What did you think about when you saw that the prime minister of the country wore a black headscarf as she addressed mourners at the burial today?

OSMAN: Jacinda - I don't know what to say. She's been absolutely phenomenal. Like, all the Muslims that I speak to - I mean, you know, everybody's been proud about how the country has rallied together. But everybody's just been in awe at how Jacinda's handled this entire situation - you know, wearing the scarf, speaking words spoken by the prophet and, you know, some of the Arabic words that she says in her speeches.

You know, obviously, you know, gestures that are quite valuable that really send a powerful message that, you know, she's there and everybody in the government is there to really support the Muslim community and understand what a tragic situation this has been - so really, really appreciative that she's gone out of her way for such a gesture. She's just really blossomed as an amazing, amazing leader for us in New Zealand, and hopefully it was a good example for the rest of the world.

INSKEEP: Hady Osman, thanks for joining us.

OSMAN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He buried his friend today in Christchurch, New Zealand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.