Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

UAE-born Hussein Al Umari killed 'running towards the attacker to protect worshippers'

Iraqi man who lived in Abu Dhabi died alongside 49 others in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch

Hussein Al Umari was killed while running towards the terrorist, as he tried to protect people fleeing the mosque. Courtesy Janna Ezat. 
Hussein Al Umari was killed while running towards the terrorist, as he tried to protect people fleeing the mosque. Courtesy Janna Ezat. 

The only thing comforting Janna Ezat after her son's death in Friday’s terror attacks is that he died a hero.

Hussein Al Umari died alongside 49 others in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, when a gunman massacred Muslims gathering for Friday prayer.

Al Umari, 35, went to Masjid Al Noor every Friday for prayers but it was a ritual he had only just started.

He recently lost his job, meaning he had the free time to allow him to visit each week.

Al Umari spent much of his adolescent life in Abu Dhabi, after his family emigrated there from Mosul, Iraq, in 1982. He had spent the past 22 years of his life in Christchurch.

On Friday, as he prayed alongside others from the city's Muslim community, Brenton Tarrant entered the mosque and began firing into the crowd.

As people ran for their lives or lay dead on the floor, Al Umari rushed towards the shooter shouting at him to stop.

'One of the only ones who turned to face the gunman was Hussein'

Ali Adeeb, one of Al Umari's friends, watched his heroic action as chaos erupted inside the mosque.

"As soon as the speech started the shooting started a few minutes after. My first thought was for my Dad," Mr Adeeb told The National. "Everyone was running forward and away and one of the only ones who turned to face the gunman was Hussein."

Mr Adeeb's father had just flown in from Dubai and had shielded him from the bullets. He is still in intensive care.

Mr Adeeb and his family originally lived in Al Ain and moved to Christchurch because it resembled the "beautiful, quiet" Emirati city.

"I came in 2010 and Hussein was one of the first brothers I knew," he said. "He was always here to help, always with a smile on his face.

"He was an amazing guy, kind soul, did everything the right way. He was the only one to go towards the gunman."

Janna Ezat said the only thing helping her to deal with her son's death is that he died a hero. Courtesy Janna Ezat. 
Janna Ezat said the only thing helping her to deal with her son's death is that he died a hero. Courtesy Janna Ezat. 

Hussein had always been a hero, his mother says

Mrs Ezat told The National from her home in Christchurch that Mr Adeeb had told her what her son had done on Friday.

"The most important thing that is relaxing me is that he was a hero. He is a real hero. I'm so proud of him.

"He immediately stood up and ran to him, telling him, 'What are you doing here? Go away,' and was trying to catch him," she said.

Mrs Ezat spent hours searching for her son after the shootings. She was supposed to meet him for lunch after his Friday visit to the mosque.

She and her husband went to the mosque to try to find his car before heading to the hospital where they awaited news of his whereabouts.

When the hospital posted a list of the injured, Al Umari's name was not on it.

Late on Saturday night, Mrs Ezat announced on social media that her son "is a martyr".

She was not surprised that he had died saving others. It had been something he had done for his family all his life.

"Yesterday, I was talking to my husband and we thought for sure he had saved people," Mrs Ezat said. "And then the witness came and told me. He is so brave."

A couple of years ago, when the family were due to travel, they arranged a security company to drop by each night and check on their house.

But the company mixed up the dates and accidentally arrived a day early.

"We were sleeping, and Armourguard opened the door. Hussein heard the door and he immediately jumped on the man and squeezed him between the door and the wall.

"His fingers went through the wall and the man was yelling, 'I'm not a thief, I am Armourguard'."

Mrs Ezat last saw her son the day before, when he was 'happy, hugging me'

The last time she saw her son was on Thursday evening, right after they bought a brand new car from a Toyota dealership.

"He was so happy, hugging me and saying 'Congratulations Mumma'. And then he left. But I got a hug from him and I am so thankful for that."

The family also drew strength from the fact he died in a mosque, during prayer, which is considered to be "the best death in Muslim society".

'I made calligraphy for Sheikh Zayed'

Mrs Ezat said her husband made the decision to move from Iraq in the early 1980s. Hazim Al Umari was working as an oil engineer on "the highest salary you can get in Iraq".

"But he forgot about the salary. He just wanted to leave and Iraq was starting to collapse."

Mr Al Umari moved to Abu Dhabi in 1981 and Mrs Ezat followed in 1982. He got a job at Adco, while she made a name for herself as a calligraphy artist.

"I made calligraphy for Sheikh Zayed, and watches and things for Sheikh Zayed. Everybody knows me in Abu Dhabi," she said.

Hussein Al Umari was born in Abu Dhabi on January 10, 1984. He attended Rosary School in the capital, before going on to Cambridge High School and finally Al Najah Private.

But for his parents, the thought of not being able to permanently settle in the UAE began to gnaw at them – especially as Hazim neared the age of 60.

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The family left the UAE in search of the 'safest place in the world'

The reason they chose New Zealand boiled down to one simple fact: “Because it’s the safest country in the world. And especially Christchurch.”

The family moved to New Zealand in 1997, while Hazim stayed behind in Abu Dhabi and visited them every six months before moving permanently in 2009. Al Umari settled into Christchurch life well. He studied tourism and after graduation went on to get a job at the Novotel Hotel in the city centre.

Losing that job left him unhappy and uncertain of his future.

He applied for many jobs, Mrs Ezat said, but had yet to hear back from them.

"He didn't have any hope left," she said. "He was saying, 'Why I'm living here?'

"He lives in a council house. The income was not enough for him so we supported him. But he didn't like taking money from his parents."

Hussein. Supplied. 
Hussein. Supplied. 

That gave Hussein more time for the mosque.

He was not a strict Muslim, Mrs Ezat said, but practised his faith when he could.

Al Umari would be remembered for his genuineness and honesty, among so much more, his mother said.

"He was very straight and very honest. He followed the rules. He is a man you trust."

He will be buried here, because this is his home

Friday's attack has not changed the family's minds about their home in New Zealand.

Funeral preparations for Al Umari were still being made but Mrs Ezat said he would be buried in a Muslim cemetery in Christchurch.

"I'm still safe here. Where else is there to go? To Iraq? To ISIS in Mosul?" she asked.

"I love Christchurch and I am very loyal to New Zealand. I draw the New Zealand map with an Iraqi map in my calligraphy. I will be buried in New Zealand. People asked me if I wanted to bury Hussein in Iraq, and I said, 'No, this is his home'.

"His death is like any normal death. I will collapse, I will be in pain, but he died a hero."

A video posted on Mrs Ezat's Facebook page in Arabic, speaking of Al Umari's last acts, has been shared almost 1,000 times. In it, two of his friends detail his last moments of life.

"Hussein is one of our best friends," Mohammed Al Saleh says. " he’s my brother, of course, my brother. He is among the first people I have known in Christchurch and we all miss him.

"All people ran away except Hussein, our brother, who stood up and yelled at him, 'Get out of the mosque'.

"He fell as a martyr, protecting the worshippers in the mosque.

"He is an honour to all his friends. He is a hero and a martyr. He is the best martyr among all the other martyrs in the masjid.

"He is our brother Hussein, he is our pride, he is an honour to us and to all the community, and all the Muslims in Christchurch."

Relatives across the world, including Iraq, Bahrain, Jordan, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Canada and England, were in mourning, Al Umari's cousin Jafar Shami said.

Mr Shami had not met his cousin but said that was typical of an Iraqi upbringing.

"Our story is typical of most Iraqi families, torn apart by decades of wars, sanctions and invasions, dispersed all around the world, feeling the terror and destruction that has plagued this beautiful country for decades," he said.

"The story of the Iraqi is that of pain and struggle. This is a family that persevered and withstood so much to restart their lives in New Zealand.

"Tragedy reached out to them there."

Updated: March 18, 2019 08:40 AM

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