Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

New Zealand Mosque Attacks Suspect Appears in Court; Muslim Community Reacts to New Zealand Massacre; Survivors Recount Harrowing Moments of New Zealand Shooting; Relatives Mourn the Lost in Ethiopian Airlines Crash; Interview with Zainab Chaudry, Council on American- Islamic Relations, on the Rise of Islamophobia. Aired 12-12:30a ET

Aired March 16, 2019 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Pauline Chiou in New York. We have the latest on our top stories in New Zealand. The community there is coming together to remember the 49 lives cut short by terror.

The suspected attacker made his first court appearance; 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant is charged with murder. He emailed his manifesto to the prime minister's office minutes before the attack. It is filled with anti-Muslin rhetoric and a white supremacist ideology.

New Zealand's prime minister reached out to the Muslim community there. Jacinda Ardern met with a group of Muslim leaders in Christchurch and reassured them that this act of violence has no place in New Zealand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACINDA ARDERN, NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER: New Zealand is united in its grief and we are united in our grief. And so I convey that message of love and support on behalf of New Zealand to all of you.

This is not New Zealand. The only part of the incident and actions that we have seen over the past 24-36 hours that is New Zealand is the support that you are seeing now. But nothing that led up to it is who we are or is who this city is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kristie Lu Stout here in Christchurch. The community reeling on the back of the horrific terror attacks on Friday; 49 people dead when Muslim worshippers were targeted and mowed down by two mass shootings in two mosques.

Qais Azimi is a member of the Muslim community here in New Zealand.

Thank you for joining us. My sympathies to you and your Muslim brothers and sisters here in New Zealand. You're from Auckland. You made the decision to fly here to Christchurch. You could have expressed solidarity in Auckland. Why did you feel compelled to be here?

QAIS AZIMI, AUCKLAND RESIDENT: (INAUDIBLE) is the most compassionate. I wanted to be here because obviously if you are physically present you can do a lot more. You can help you people. You can (INAUDIBLE) with the grieving families, offer your condolences. And if any help is needed, you can help.

STOUT: You are an educator. You are an Islamic educator.

What are you trying to teach the community here in Christchurch here today?

AZIMI: I'm not here to teach. I'm actually here to help at the moment. That's my job back in Auckland. But I have come here to help as much as I can, be, like I said, with the grieving families. And also what I can teach is with my attitude and my character, be kind and compassionate, because that's what our religion tells us.

STOUT: When you talk to the grieving families -- and I can only imagine their agony and how they're struggling to understand why they became targets of this act of terror -- how are you helping them to cope?

AZIMI: This is obviously -- I've been here -- I came in 2000. So I've been in the West 19 years. I've always felt safe. This sort of tragedy is unprecedented in the past. It has never happened in New Zealand, as the prime minister called it, the darkest hour. So it's something really, really tragic. It is also beyond belief and it's a shock as well.

So everyone is in shock. We can speak with the families. We can offer them to be more patient, we can ask them to be more patient. We can offer a dua for them. We can ask Allah to make it easy for them.

STOUT: In different areas around Christchurch we have seen scenes like this behind you, these massive floral tributes around places of worship. It could be next to a church, next to a mosque, next to a temple. And the messages and the cards are quite beautiful about love and compassion.

Does that give you hope that Christchurch will change for the better after what happened on Friday?

AZIMI: Of course, you know, like you said, there's a lot of love been coming, a lot of compassion has been coming. I have seen that at the national level. This is great. We thank the whole of New Zealand. And this is --

[12:05:00]

AZIMI: -- amazing. And also our religion also teaches us compassion and mercy. So like I said, we thank all of New Zealanders. And we feel, after one attack, it's not going to be like we're going to feel unsafe after that. We're always going to feel safe in this country.

STOUT: Mosques across New Zealand have been closed. There is a heightened sense of security. The threat level is still high.

Where can you pray now?

Where can you and the Muslim community gather together to commune with God?

AZIMI: Yes. Prophet Mohammed (INAUDIBLE) told us this whole Earth has been a place of worship for the Muslim. So we can pray at home, in the park, we can pray anywhere. Obviously the mosque is important, it's a central point of a Muslim's life. We can y sometimes pray five times a day in the mosque.

So now that it is closed, we can pray at home. We can pray in the mosque, we can pray in the park, anywhere.

STOUT: And you have been praying with the victims' families, offering them messages of consolation, of compassion.

AZIMI: Yes.

STOUT: What is your message to people who harbor thoughts of hate, who are scared of Muslims, who are afraid of foreigners and immigrants?

How can you teach them?

AZIMI: Look, the hate is spreading like wildfire at the moment. As you can see in the media, social media, there's so much hatred in the world and it's just increasing.

Let's just put that aside, try all of us to spread goodness and spread good to the humanity, spread love to the humanity because it's very, very easy to hate people. It's very easy to spread hate. But it is very hard to spread love and mercy. And that's what we want to spread.

The prophet Mohammed, he loved -- it says in the Quran (speaking foreign language), which means I have (INAUDIBLE) mercy to whole of humanity, not just for Muslims but for the whole of humanity.

And God says in the book, in our holy book of Quran, whoever saves one soul, it is as if he has saved all of humanity. And if he destroys one soul, it is as if he has killed the whole of humanity. The religion of Islam is a religion spreading peace and goodness in the whole world.

STOUT: Qais, that was so beautiful. Thank you so much. And thank you for sharing your message of love, mercy and compassion on this day when that is needed after what happened on Friday. More love, more mercy, less hate. Thank you so much.

CNN has been talking to survivors of the horrific terror attack on Friday. CNN's Alexandra Field filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the massacre at Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, where seven Muslims were killed, Ahmad Khan narrowly saved his own life.

AHMAD KHAN, EYEWITNESS: The guy shot at me but I dodged down so he missed me. And then I ran back to the mosque and told everyone to go to the ground because there's someone with a gun who's going to shoot everyone. And then everyone went to the ground and then he started shooting through the windows.

FIELD (voice-over): Inside Khan, found a friend bleeding.

KHAN: And I knew he was shot in the right arm. I went in there and held him and told him -- he was asking for some water. I said, calm down. The police are here now. And then the gunman came through the window again and shot him, when I was holding him, in the head. And he was dead.

FIELD (voice-over): Khan came to New Zealand 12 years ago, seeking safety, a refugee from Kabul, Afghanistan. His Afghan uncle, among those killed in the gunfire on New Zealand's darkest day at a second mosque just minutes away.

Khaled al-Shdokthi was inside Al Noor mosque when the bullets began flying there.

KHALED AL-SHDOKTHI, WITNESS: Some of my friends died, some of them this morning and one of my friends is still in the hospital because he was shot in his leg.

FIELD (voice-over): Al-Shdokthi, a PhD Candidate from Saudi Arabia, said he recently told his Saudi friends he thought New Zealand was the safest place on Earth. To him, it was.

AL-SHDOKTHI: I saw the bullets on the wall. The man came inside. And we couldn't do anything, just I looked, there I was, just sitting next to the window. I smashed the window and I escaped from the window and many people ran after me. And we went to the back yard.

FIELD (voice-over): Sue Harrison heard the shots ring out across the yard.

SUE HARRISON, WITNESS: I got in the stairwell and started hunkering down with panic feeling in our hearts, just describing the sound.

FIELD (voice-over): Finally, there was silence.

HARRISON: After the gunshots had stopped for a few --

[12:10:00]

HARRISON: -- minutes, we peeked out the window and we could see people in the back yard of the mosque, sort of milling around. And they were up front. They went. They weren't panicking. They were just sort of walking around. There was wailing going on. FIELD (voice-over): Harrison hasn't been allowed back to the apartment. The area around the mosque is still a crime scene. It's where 41 people who couldn't get out died inside.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STOUT: And Alexandra joins us now with more of her interviews and experience talking to the survivors of the terror attack.

These are individuals who are immigrants, who are asylum seekers, who are refugees, who came to Christchurch and New Zealand thinking this was a safe place. You've been learning more about them and their backgrounds.

FIELD: The stories are harrowing. But it is really the stories of the lives we want to focus on, the lives that were cut short, of course and also the lives of the people that have been forever changed by what they saw.

We know these people came from so many different countries across the world. They had built communities here. They had built homes here. You know, one of the men who I spoke to came for a PhD. Another came to flee a war at home.

They thought of this as a beautiful place. They thought of this as a safe place. And I asked them if they would stay here. One of them told me that his friends were leaving. The others said, though, this is the home they've made. This is the home they're going to stay in.

STOUT: The worst-ever mass shooting in the history of New Zealand, yes, let's keep the focus on the victims and their lives and who they were. That was the purpose of the memorial that took place at the Al Noor Mosque. There were two mosques is where these terrible shootings took place. The vast majority killed in the Al Noor Mosque.

How were their lives remembered?

FIELD: So many people were coming out in the immediate aftermath of these attacks. We saw it happening all day yesterday. I suspect we will see it all day today as the sun comes up. People taking a silent moment, leaving flowers as close to the mosque they could get.

A lot of people were bringing their children, their families because you didn't have to be inside that mosque to be rocked by what happened here.

We spoke to so many people who said, you know, they live nearby, they heard these gunshots ring out for 10 or 15 minutes. Or they couldn't reach their kids for six or seven hours because the students were in lockdown in their schools.

So they wanted to be back in the streets yesterday, take back some of their space, show their children how you start to move forward. But certainly, they said to me over and over again they wanted to send a message to what is a very small Muslim community in this country, that they stand in solidarity. And this is their shared home and this will not be the way forward here.

STOUT: How has Christchurch changed on the back of this?

Because this attack was designed to inspire fear, incite hatred and yet we are seeing symbols of love and compassion around us.

FIELD: We are. They told me they have watched this happen in other countries around the world. Certainly we have seen it in the United States happen so many countless times. One man said something I think I will never forget. He said this is a filthy international disease that has arrived here now.

So they want to project a message of something different. You heard the prime minister coming forward very quickly and saying the gun laws in this country will change.

What I also thought was pretty profound, though, is I spoke to people in the community, that said this is a place that's been rocked before in a different way. This is a place that has had to rebuild from the tragedy of the earthquakes less than a decade ago.

But one woman said you just can't compare the scale here, because that was a natural disaster. This was evil unfolding.

STOUT: It's incredible. Christchurch no stranger to disaster, the 2011 earthquake. But Christchurch, it seems to refuse to be defined by this. Alexandra Field, we thank you so much for your reporting.

It refuses to be defined by this tragedy. And it was summed up in one poster that you see circulated in scenes like this. "This is not New Zealand." This does not represent what the country is about. New Zealand is about decency, it's about welcoming immigrants, welcoming Muslims. It's about tolerance.

We'll continue our coverage of the aftermath of these terror attacks in Christchurch after the break. You're watching CNN.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:15:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

STOUT: Welcome back. I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Christchurch.

CHIOU: I'm Pauline Chiou in New York. Here are the latest developments.

The man accused of carrying out the mosque terror attacks made his first court appearance. Brenton Tarrant remained silent. He was charged with one count of murder. More charges will be filed later. Two others are also in custody but their involvement in the attack remains unclear. We are learning today that he emailed his manifesto to the prime

minister's office minutes before the attack. At least 49 were killed, dozens more wounded in the shootings.

Let's now bring you the other stories making news this hour.

The so-called Yellow Vest protests in Paris have turned violent once again. French police fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse protesters who shattered windows and set a newspaper stand on fire.

This is the 18th consecutive Saturday of demonstrations against president Emmanuel Macron and his policies.

Joining us now live from Paris is France 24 correspondent Catherine Norris-Trent.

Catherine, we have seen this pick up momentum today compared to past weekends.

What's happening now?

CATHERINE NORRIS-TRENT, FRANCE 24 CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pauline, the situation is very tense now on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Security forces, lines and lines of riot police are driving a knot of protesters, several hundred protesters, back down the circle. They're trying to disperse them.

They're firing round upon round of tear gas canisters in the streets just where we are standing, trying to break up this group of protesters, which the French prime minister has said are ultra violent people come to wreak havoc and attack Paris.

Police said this would not be tolerated and he called for all the perpetrators to be arrested, taken to court and punished. The latest figures we have, 109 people being questioned by police. We can expect that figure to rise because right now there's a very tense standoff on the Champs-Elysees.

You can hear rounds of tear gas being fired. There are several dozen police vans here on this very famous avenue, which once again has been hit by violent clashes, the most violent we have seen in several weeks since the start of the Yellow Vest protests. It seems that has provoked clashes once again in Central Paris.

CHIOU: All right, Catherine, thank you so much for bringing us up to date. Be careful there on this 18th consecutive weekend of the Yellow Vest protests

Investigators looking into the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 are focusing on a piece of the plane's stabilizer in the wreckage. "The New York Times" reports the pilot experienced problems almost immediately after takeoff.

According to "The Times," air traffic controllers saw the plane pitching wildly up and down and accelerating to an abnormal speed. Investigators are looking at the flight's data recorders at a facility in Paris. Relatives of the victims of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 are, of course, devastated by the tragic deaths --

[12:20:00]

CHIOU: -- of their loved ones and they are now learning they may not get what they want most, which is closure. Robyn Curnow explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): "Why her, why her?" she cries. Her daughter, Ayantu Girmay, was a stewardess on the fatal flight.

KEBEBEW LEGESSE, VICTIM'S MOTHER (through translator): What I am now demanding is that I get the body of my child. Whatever happened, has happened. I now need to lay her to rest.

CURNOW (voice-over): And her mother is among dozens of family members of victims who came to the crash site for a ceremony to honor the lives of their loved ones.

This woman lost her brother.

FASSIKA MULU, VICTIM'S SISTER (through translator): Performing all the rituals like funerals and other things according to our culture would have made the pain easier. But the fact that we cannot hold funerals makes the grief difficult to handle.

CURNOW (voice-over): This family set up a memorial for their loved one, the pain and anguish just too much to handle.

Back in the capital, Addis Ababa, this memorial honors the flight crew, eight lives lost forever on what should have been a normal workday for them.

In Kenya, Mary Wangari (ph) and her family try to come to terms with the loss of their sister, Florence, a Catholic nun serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who took leave from work to spend time with family in Kenya.

Florence texted her sister from Addis Ababa, saying, "I have board the plane and will not be able to speak to you again until I land in Nairobi."

And 36-year-old Joanna Toole worked for the United Nations. She was on her way to attend the U.N. Environment Assembly in Nairobi. Joanna was one of 21 staffers killed in the crash.

There was a moment of silence for them at the U.N. on Monday.

Karim Saafi was co-chair of the African Diaspora Youth Forum in Europe. In a message on Facebook his colleagues wrote, "His noble contribution to youth employment will never be forgotten."

And Cedric Asiavugwa, a student at Georgetown Law, was on his way back home to Nairobi for the funeral of his fiancee's mother. So many promising lives lost in one moment and so many hearts left

wondering why -- Robyn Curnow, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

STOUT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout reporting live in Christchurch. This is a community in grief, in shock and united in mourning. What happened on Friday, the worst mass shooting in the history of New Zealand, the terrible terror attack on two mosques that took the lives of 49 Muslim worshippers.

It was an act that was roundly condemned criticized here in New Zealand and by political leaders around the world and also by Muslim leaders, who say what happened on Friday here in Christchurch is a symptom of a far larger problem, of rising hatred, of rising xenophobia and rising Islamophobia.

We will dig into that angle with our next guest, Zainab Chaudry, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She joins us now.

Thank you for joining us.

Your thoughts on this: to what degree is the tragedy and the terror attack that took place here a symptom of something much bigger and much scarier, rising hate, rising xenophobia and Islamophobia in every corner of the world?

ZAINAB CHAUDRY, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: First of all, I would like to extend my sincere condolences to the families of the victims whose lives were taken in this horrific attack in Christchurch. We know that white supremacy has fueled different kinds of hatred, targeting not just the Muslim community globally but also Jews, African Americans --

[12:25:00]

CHAUDRY: -- various communities who have been affected by this hate. It is very critical that we take this tragedy and use it an example of why especially our elected officials and officials who have public platforms call out white supremacy for what it is.

We are living in a political climate where many communities are living in fear and anxiety because of the virulent ideologies that have been used to perpetuate hatred towards minority communities.

STOUT: Once we can get most people to recognize the problem here, it's white supremacy. It's hatred.

It's xenophobia, Islamophobia, what can be done next? How can we end this extremist thinking that leads to terror attacks?

CHAUDRY: We need to make sure elected officials are using resources to counter these problems. Last fall, the Trump administration decreased funding to counter domestic terrorism here in the United States, for example. We need to not only restore that funding but assess the impact and the scope of the problem and make sure that enough resources are being allocated to address the root core of these issues and make sure that communities feel safe and protected.

Individuals need to know that our elected officials have our back, that they are committed to our security and our safety and that, you know, we as a nation and as a world are going to be working together to push back against any forces that are trying to divide our country or our world on any ideology that is intent on demonizing or vilifying any individual based on their race, religion, ethnicity or anything like that.

STOUT: This is the social media age. This type of hatred, extremist way of thinking is being fueled, supercharged by the Internet, by social media platforms, as popular as Facebook and Twitter, in addition to the 4chans and 8chans.

What can be done there when the hate is so ready available and livestreamed online?

CHAUDRY: We see a lot of hatred in these public spheres but we are also seeing an incredible amount of good. Just in the last 24 hours, less than 24 hours, over $1.5 million New Zealand have been raised by American Muslim organizations to support the victims and their families in New Zealand.

I think this is just one example of how the power of our collective humanity will overcome and overshadow any forces that are seeking to divide us.

We should use this as an opportunity to amplify those voices. Individuals have been planned in nations across the world, people are coming together to say this is not who we will be and we will not stay quiet and stay silent while these forces seek to divide our country and our world based on these virulent ideologies.

So I think it's important to use this time to amplify those voices and those individuals who are coming together to share the good of humanity and to really drown out the divisiveness that we're witnessing.

STOUT: Absolutely. Zainab Chaudry, thank you so much for joining us. And take care.

As she was mentioning just then, it is about the forces of coming together to counter the forces that are tearing us apart. And you can see that in vivid display in the floral tribute behind me, this being repeated in many plates across Christchurch, with messages of compassion, of love, of unity on the back of that horrific terror attack, love appears to be the answer. I'm Kristie Lu Stout. More from Christchurch after the break.