Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 July 2019

Christchurch man who threw card machine at mosque attacker says he is no hero

Linwood mosque worshipper Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah probably saved lives, says imam

A New Zealand man who took on the gunman during the Christchurch attacks armed only with a card payment machine says he was just "doing what any human being would do", when he threw the handheld device at the man in the midst of a shooting spree outside a mosque.

Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah, 48, an Afghan-born shop-owner who has lived in Australasia for the past three decades, was attending Friday prayers with his four children at the Linwood Islamic Centre, when the attack began shortly before 2pm.

Minutes earlier, the shooter had killed 42 people at Al Noor Mosque, Christchurch’s only other mosque seven kilometres to the west, but at first Mr Wahabzadah mistook the gunfire for a prank.

“At first we thought it was firecrackers. Someone trying to play around with us," he told The National.

A man then yelled that people had been shot outside, he said.

Mr Wahabzadah then ran outside to where the gunman had already killed three people, instinctively grabbing an EFTPOS card payment terminal on his way out the door.

“I ran outside; I see a man with an army uniform and I say, ‘Who the hell are you?’” Mr Wahabzadah said. “The person starts swearing at me, and I know he is not police, as they wouldn't swear, so I threw the EFTPOS machine."

The attacker, who has been identified as an Australian white supremacist, returned to his car and retrieved another weapon, opening fire on Mr Wahabzadah.

With one of his sons, 5, yelling for him to come back, Mr Wahabzadah ducked around the side of the mosque, where he found a shotgun lying beside a dead body.

"I just grabbed that shotgun, when I pulled the trigger there was no bullet in it."

He then tried to attract the gunman's attention away from the mosque. "I was in the car park and yelled, ‘Come this way, come this way,’" he said.

Unconcerned for his own safety, Mr Wahabzadah said of his thinking: "Even if I get shot, it’s alright as long as I can save another life."

But then he heard gunfire inside the mosque, where his children were cowering alongside about 80 other worshippers.

When the gunman left, he saw Mr Wahabzadah with the shotgun and dropped his assault rifle and ran towards his car.

Believing the rifle to be empty, Mr Wahabzadah picked it up and threw it at the car windshield, breaking the glass.

"He just swore at me and drove off," Mr Wahabzadah said.

Mr Wahabzadah ran back inside the mosque, where he discovered a scene of carnage.

"One of my good friends was asking for water and his wife was crying to just call the ambulance. We tried to do everything that we could," he said.

A person was shot and killed next to one of his sons, 11, while his other son, 24, covered his own son, 5, with his body during the attack. "They have not slept since,” said Mr Wahabzadah. “When they close their eyes, all they see is bodies."

But Mr Wahabzadah’s ordeal was not over. Bystanders had seen him holding a weapon and he was detained by police until he could be cleared.

Minutes later, police arrested the man believed to be the killer on Brougham Street about five kilometres to the south-west.

Fifty people were killed and another 50 injured during the half-hour attack, 17 minutes of which the killer live streamed on Facebook. The mass shooting was New Zealand’s worst ever peacetime attack.

Mr Wahabzadah has been hailed as a hero for his actions. Latef Alabi, the Linwood mosque's acting imam, said the death toll would have been far higher if it wasn't for Mr Wahabzadah.

“He went after him, and he managed to overpower him, and that’s how we were saved,” Mr Alabi told the Associated Press. “Otherwise, if he managed to come into the mosque, then we would all probably be gone.”

But Mr Wahabzadah downplays his selfless actions. “No I don't feel like a hero, a human being will do what I did."

He was emphatic though that the killer was a coward. "I saw it in his eyes when he was running away."

Updated: March 17, 2019 06:06 PM

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