Adeeb Sami’s trip to New Zealand was supposed to be joyful — a chance for the Dubai father to surprise his twin children for their birthdays.
Instead, the 52-year-old ended up in surgery to have a bullet removed from his spine after he dove to shield his sons from a gunman who stormed a mosque Friday in Christchurch, Gulf News reported.
By the time the rampage was over, the gunman had killed 41 people. An attack at another mosque killed seven more, and one victim died at a hospital, leaving the country reeling in the aftermath of its deadliest mass shooting in recent history.
“My dad is a real hero,” Sami’s daughter, Heba, told Gulf News. “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.”
The main suspect in the mass shootings was charged for now with one count of murder. Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 28-year old Australian citizen, appeared in a Christchurch District Court and was remanded to jail without a plea until his next scheduled appearance April 5. Handcuffed and wearing a white prison suit, Tarrant did not speak.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labeled it terrorism.
Footage of the attack on one of the mosques was shown live on Facebook, and a online “manifesto” denounced immigrants as “invaders.”
The video showed a man driving to the mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people inside.
Facebook said it had deleted the accused gunman’s accounts “shortly after the livestream commenced” after being alerted by police. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all said they had taken steps to remove copies of the videos.
Police said two other people were in custody.
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Ardern said the main suspect was a licensed gun owner who used five weapons during his rampage, including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns.
“I can tell you one thing right now, our gun laws will change,” Ardern told reporters.
World leaders expressed sorrow and disgust at the attacks, some deploring the demonization of Muslims.
President Donald Trump condemned the attack as a “horrible massacre” and talked with the prime minister to offer assistance.
The accused gunman cited Trump in the manifesto as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
Asked by a reporter if he thought white nationalism is a rising threat around the world, Trump said: “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess if you look at what happened in New Zealand perhaps that’s a case, I don’t know enough about it yet.”
Political and Islamic leaders across Asia and the Middle East voiced concern over the targeting of Muslims.
“I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11,” Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan posted on social media. “1.3 billion Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror.”
New Zealand police have not released the names of those killed in Friday’s attacks.
Children are believed to be among the dead and wounded. Heba told the Dubai news outlet that she lost five family friends, including a 12-year-old boy.
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Abdulrahman Hashi, 60, a preacher at Dar Al Hijrah Mosque in Minneapolis, told the Washington Post his 4-year-old nephew was among those killed. He received a phone call Friday morning from his brother-in-law Adan Ibrahin Dirie, who was in the hospital with gunshot wounds. Dirie had been worshipping in Christchurch that morning with his five children when the gunman opened fire. Four of his children escaped unharmed. The youngest, Abdullahi, was killed.
The family had fled Somalia in the mid-1990s as refugees and resettled in New Zealand.
“You cannot imagine how I feel,” he said. “He was the youngest in the family.” He said that he would preach against Islamophobia during Friday prayers. “This is a problem of extremism. Some people think the Muslims in their country are part of that, but these are innocent people.”
In addition to the 49 killed at the mosques, dozens of others were wounded or are missing.
A group called Syrian Solidarity New Zealand said Syrian refugees were in the mosque when it came under attack. Ali Akil, an Auckland-based spokesman for the group, told the Post the father of a refugee family was killed, a son was wounded and another was missing.
The family fled the civil war in Syria in search of “a safe haven, only to be killed here,” he said.
Reuters and the Washington Post contributed to this report.