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World

New Zealand Reflects After Violence Strikes Muslim Community

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to go now to Christchurch, New Zealand, where our correspondent Rob Schmitz is standing by. As we have heard, 50 people died in Friday's attack on two mosques. Thirty-six others remain hospitalized with two of them in critical condition. Rob Schmitz joins us now from Christchurch to tell us more about how the community is coping with these attacks.

Rob, thanks so much for talking with us.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Well, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: And what have people in the Muslim community in Christchurch been telling you?

SCHMITZ: Well, I think, you know, this is a community that is numb with shock about what happened on Friday. Many of the people that I spoke with since arriving here on Saturday have told me that, you know, they're from war-torn countries. They're from Somalia, they're from Afghanistan. And they immigrated here, and they sort of felt like they hit the jackpot. You know, New Zealand is a developed country. It's got a good standard of living. It's small. It's known for its religious and racial tolerance, where they could practice their faith freely without fear. And then Friday's terrorist attack shattered their world.

I met a man named Sheikh Faraz (ph). He attends the mosque where most of the victims were killed, and three of his good friends were murdered. He hasn't slept since Friday. He said he went grocery shopping on Saturday and nearly had a panic attack because he was scared that a shooter was going to storm the grocery store. He says the nicest people he's ever met attend the mosques that were attacked. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHEIKH FARAZ: Even though you didn't know these people, they always - they welcome. They say, hello, brother. How are you? I mean, like, why would you want to do something do this kind of people, you know? They're so friendly.

SCHMITZ: And as it happens, you know, when the shooter entered the first mosque on Friday with a semiautomatic weapon, the first worshipper he saw reportedly greeted him by saying, hello, brother. And then he shot him and killed that man.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk a bit about the shooter now - that he is from Australia. He's 28 years old. He is in custody. And, if I have this correctly, police now believe he acted alone. He will be tried in New Zealand. What are people saying about him?

SCHMITZ: Many people were quick to point out that he, in fact, is not from New Zealand but from Australia - saying that, you know, people from New Zealand wouldn't do such a thing. But, you know, others I spoke to weren't so sure about that.

You know, I spoke to Aliya Danzeisen, who flew in from Auckland to support the families of the victims. She works with the Islamic Women's Council of New Zealand. She was born and raised in Michigan but has lived in New Zealand for 13 years, and she says that she lives here because it's the safest country she can imagine for her children. But she says she has noticed changes in the past few years, even in this place she used to consider an island paradise.

ALIYA DANZEISEN: With the increase in the rhetoric and overseas coming out of Europe and the United States - straight up from the United States and from the highest office in the United States - that rhetoric helped create and give place for white nationalism. And we are suffering the consequences of it. And it's directly related to that. It's my belief. As an American citizen, I believe it came from that.

SCHMITZ: She also blamed the U.S. media for promoting an image of Muslims as the other - people, she said, who have different values than, quote-unquote, "normal Americans."

MARTIN: And, Rob, finally today, what are people saying about gun laws in New Zealand? I understand that the killer had a license to possess the guns that he used.

SCHMITZ: Yes, he did have a license for the five guns that he used. And one of them, an AR-15 which under New Zealand law is restricted to seven rounds, appears to have been modified so that he could shoot up to 60 rounds. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the country's gun laws need to change. And it sounds like New Zealand's Parliament is ready to follow through on that.

MARTIN: That was NPR's Rob Schmitz speaking with us from Christchurch, New Zealand.

Rob, thank you so much.

SCHMITZ: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.