When the gunman advanced toward the mosque, killing those in his path, Abdul Aziz did not hide. Instead, he picked up the first thing he could find, a credit card scanning machine, and ran outside screaming: “Come here!”
Aziz, 48, has been called a hero for likely preventing more deaths during Friday prayers at the Linwood mosque in Christchurch after scaring the gunman off.
But Aziz, whose four sons and dozens of others remained in the mosque while he faced off with the gunman, said he believed it was what anyone would have done.
The gunman killed 50 people after attacking two mosques in the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand’s modern history.
The gunman is believed to have killed at least 41 people at the Al Noor mosque before driving about 5km (3 miles) across town and attacking the Linwood mosque, where he killed seven more people. One person died later in a hospital, and police announced Sunday that a 50th body had been found.
Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with one count of murder in the killings. Police said it was likely more charges would follow.
Latef Alabi, the Linwood mosque’s acting imam, said he believed the death toll would have been far higher if it had not been for Aziz’s actions.
Alabi said he heard a voice outside the mosque at about 1:55pm on Friday and stopped the prayer he was leading and looked out of the window. He saw a man in black military-style gear and a helmet holding a large gun, and assumed it was a police officer.
Then he saw two bodies and heard the gunman yelling obscenities.
“I realised this is something else. This is a killer,” he said.
He then shouted at the congregation of more than 80 to get down. They hesitated. A shot rang out, a window shattered and a body fell, and people began to realise it was for real.
“Then this brother [Aziz] came over. He went after him, and he managed to overpower him, and that’s how we were saved,” Alabi said. “Otherwise, if he managed to come into the mosque, then we would all probably be gone.”
Aziz, originally from Afghanistan, said he had run outside of the mosque hoping to distract the attacker. He said the gunman ran back to his car to get another gun, and Aziz hurled the credit card machine at him.
The gunman returned, firing, he said. Aziz then said he ran, weaving through cars parked in the driveway, which prevented the gunman from getting a clean shot. Then Aziz spotted a gun the gunman had abandoned and picked it up, pointed it and squeezed the trigger. It was empty.
He said the gunman ran back to the car for a second time, likely to grab yet another weapon.
“He gets into his car and I just got the gun and threw it on his window like an arrow and blasted his window,” he said.
The windshield shattered: “That’s why he got scared.”
He said the gunman drove away and online videos indicate police officers managed to force the car from the road and drag out the suspect soon after.
Originally from Kabul, Aziz said he left as a refugee when he was a boy and lived for more than 25 years in Australia before moving to New Zealand a couple of years ago.
“I’ve been to a lot of countries and this is one of the beautiful ones,” he said. And, he always thought, a peaceful one as well.