WASHINGTON - Abdulkadir Ababora was sitting in the front row of a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week when a 28-year-old Australian gunman opened fire during Friday prayers.
Fifty worshipers were killed in the March 15 attacks in two mosques, and the gunman appeared intent of taking as many lives as possible.
“Those who were hit with the automatic weapons fell, and he went and checked those who were breathing and started shooting at those who were already on the ground,” Abdulkadir told VOA’s Afaan Oromoo service.
Abdulkadir, meanwhile, lay under a bookshelf, pretending to be dead.
“I pulled the Quranic bookshelf on top of me to hide my head under and held my breath so that he didn’t detect I was alive,” Abdulkadir said.
The kinds of weapons used in the attack are now banned in the country. New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced Thursday that the government would outlaw “military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles,” effective immediately.
Abdulkadir said he “saw blood flowing like a river” as bullets pierced victims in his mosque.
“I didn’t think it was real, and I thought it was something out of a cinema or a movie,” he added.
Originally from Ethiopia, Abdulkadir now works as a taxi driver in New Zealand. He left his wife, who gave birth two weeks ago, at home and his other children at school before heading to the mosque that ill-fated day.
“I am not sure if he passed me thinking I was dead, but he shot those who were on my left and right,” Abdulkadir said. “All I was thinking about was my wife and my three children. … I was thinking that it was going to be my turn, and I lost hope at the moment.”
Victims’ families have begun receiving their loved ones’ bodies. On Tuesday, six victims’ bodies were returned to families, according to police, and the rest will soon get a place to rest. The victims included refugees from Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan, along with other people seeking refuge.
Mike Bush, New Zealand’s commissioner of police, said Thursday that all of the victims have been identified and their families notified, earlier saying, “this is for us an absolute priority for family reasons, for compassionate reasons and for cultural reasons.” Among those killed was 3-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim, the youngest victim of the attacks.
Despite the attacks and ongoing islamophobic sentiments, Abdulkadir remains hopeful.
“New Zealand is a peaceful place, and we have never seen anything like this before,” he said. “Migrants are now getting help — more than anytime before — and showing us support and strength.”
This story originated in VOA's Horn of Africa’s Afaan Oromoo service.