The bodies of victims from New Zealand’s mosques mass shooting were carried in open caskets on the shoulders of mourners into a large tent at Christchurch’s Memorial Park Cemetery on Wednesday - the first burials of the 50 victims.
The majority of victims from Friday’s attack in the South Island city were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
The youngest was a boy of three, born in New Zealand to Somali refugee parents.
The first two victims buried, father and son Khaled and Hamza Mustafa, came from war-torn Syria.
“I cannot tell you how gutting it is...a family came here for safety and they should have been safe here,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, visiting the city for the second time since the massacre.
Wrapped in white cloth, the bodies were laid to face Mecca, and, after jenazah (funeral) prayers, were carried towards their freshly dug graves.
“Seeing the body lowered down, it was a very emotional time for me,” said Gulshad Ali, who had traveled from Auckland to attend the first funeral.
Several mounds of dirt piled high marked the site of multiple graves which will be used for New Zealand’s worst mass shooting.
Hundreds gathered to mourn, some men wearing a taqiyah (skullcap), others in shalwar kameez (long tunic and trousers), while women wore hijabs and scarfs.
Heavily armed police stood watch with flowers tucked in their revolver holsters and attached to their high powered rifles.
Six victims were buried on Wednesday, with more expected during the week.
Ardern said this coming Friday’s call to prayers for Muslims in New Zealand will be broadcast nationally and there will be a two minute silence on Friday.
“There is a desire to show support for the Muslim community as they return to mosques on Friday,” she said.
The bullet-ridden Al Noor mosque, where more than 40 people died, was being cleaned and repaired for Friday prayers.
Near the mosque, members of rival gangs did a Maori haka, a powerful indigenous ceremonial performance, and a crowd of people sung New Zealand’s national anthem as the sun set.
The Australian National Imams Council has called on Imams to dedicate this Friday’s Khutbah (sermon) to the Christchurch mosque mass shooting.
“This is a human and an international tragedy, not only a Muslim and NZ tragedy. These acts of terror are there to divide us...and we reject this in all its forms and ways, but rather we will stay united and strong.”
Earlier, a police spokesperson had confirmed that the post-mortem of all 50 bodies had been completed and that 21 of the deceased had been identified.
"We are doing all we can to undertake this work as quickly as possible and return the victims to their loved ones," police said in a statement.
"While identification may seem straightforward, the reality is much more complex, particularly in a situation like this."
Over 100 experts — comprising police officers as well as personnel from the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) and New Zealand Defence Force — are working on the case.
An Australian white supremacist terrorist had shot dead 50 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in the southern city of Christchurch last Friday in a killing spree that he had broadcast live and that the tech companies scrambled to take down from the Internet.
'Full force of the law'
The killings have sparked outrage and revulsion in New Zealand as well as a debate about the country's comparatively permissive gun laws and whether authorities have done enough to track far-right extremists.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday visited Cashmere High School, which lost two students in the shootings: Sayyad Milne, 14 and Hamza Mustafa, a 16-year-old refugee from Syria who died alongside his father, Khalid Mustafa, at Al Noor mosque.
Asked by a student how she felt, Ardern replied simply: "I am sad".
Ardern had vowed the white terrorist would face the "full force of the law" as she opened a sombre session of parliament with an evocative "Assalaam-o-Alaikum" message of peace to Muslims.
But she pledged that she, and much of New Zealand, would deprive the 28-year-old gunman of the publicity he craved by never uttering his name.
"He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless," she told assembled lawmakers.
"I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them."
Dozens of relatives of the deceased have begun arriving from around the world, some hoping to take bodies back with them.
Javed Dadabhai, who travelled from Auckland to help bury his cousin, said families and volunteers had been warned of a slow process.
"The majority of people still have not had the opportunity to see their family members," he told AFP.
'My convenience doesn't outweigh the risk of misuse'
In a rambling "manifesto," the gunman had said he was motivated partly by a desire to stoke a violent response from Muslims and a religious war between Islam and the West.
Following the mass shooting, Ardern has promised to reform New Zealand laws that allowed the terrorist to legally purchase weapons used in the attack.
New Zealanders have already begun answering government appeals to hand in their weapons, including John Hart, a farmer in the North Island district of Masterton.
Hart said it was an easy decision for him to hand in his semi-automatic and tweeted: "on the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn't outweigh the risk of misuse. We don't need these in our country.
"We have make sure it's #NeverAgain."
The tweet drew a barrage of derogatory messages to his Facebook account — most apparently from the US, where the pro-gun lobby is powerful.
Ardern has said details of the proposed reform will be announced by next week, but she indicated they could include gun buybacks and a ban on some semi-automatic rifles.