March 18, 2019 5:03 pm
Updated: March 18, 2019 11:33 pm

‘They need us’: Muslim volunteers fly in to wash bodies of the dead in New Zealand

WATCH: Man who lost his wife says he forgives suspected shooter


CHRISTCHURCH, March 18 (Reuters) – Kamran Nasir was in a finance lecture in Australia when a gunman slaughtered 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.

Within hours he had joined a band of about 60 volunteers on their way to wash the dead victims, in the somber aftermath of New Zealand’s worst modern mass shooting spree.

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“We got this text – they need volunteers,” Nasir, 35, told Reuters.

“It literally unfolded in an hour and half and we were running to the airport to catch a flight,” he said, sitting with four friends who had also dropped everything to offer help.

READ MORE: Bodies of victims remain in police custody following New Zealand mosque attack

Experienced in Islamic funeral rites, the men from Brisbane who are connected to Brothers in Need, a charity group, are part of a contingent drawn from Australia and cities across New Zealand to help a community overwhelmed by the number of bodies which must be dealt with according to ritual.

They also epitomize a spirit of generosity that has pulsed across a grieving city this week.

“The first thing that went through my head was: They need us,” Nasir said.

WATCH: Emergency responders tell of harrowing scenes during mosque attack

He arrived in the early hours of Saturday, the same day Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder over the killings. Tarrant was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5 where police said he was likely to face more charges.

Christchurch is subdued. Bunches of flowers have been piled up outside the botanical gardens and underneath oak trees opposite one of the mosques, which are guarded by armed police.

The majority of victims were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The youngest was a three year old boy, born in New Zealand to Somali refugee parents.

READ MORE: Police investigating after Canadian far-right website reposts New Zealand terrorist’s manifesto

The victims, after their bodies were removed from the crime scenes, had to be examined by investigators before they can be prepared for burial.

“It is a spiritual process, preparing the body to go into the next life,” said Taufan Mawardi, who is 38 and one of Nasir’s fellow volunteers.

“I’ve never personally done anything that’s got to do with violent crime, particularly bodies that have been riddled with bullet holes or knife wounds or whatever that may be. So it is a bit confronting as well, anticipating what it’s going to be like in there,” he said.

WATCH: Students perform powerful Haka dance for victims

Eight teams of six people are carrying out the work of cleansing the bodies before burial.

“You start from the head, working down from the right to the left side, to the feet. The mouth and the nose have to be washed,” Nasir said.

READ MORE: Alleged New Zealand shooter is ‘lucid’ and understands charges, lawyer says

Officials say they have released one body and that they hope to complete their examinations of the other 49 killed as soon as possible.

“As much as it is emotional, we’ve got a very good support network,” said Nasir.

“For me it is an honor. It is an honor to be washing these bodies.”

© 2019 Reuters

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