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Fri 9 Aug 2019 01:47 PM

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200 hit by New Zealand massacre take part in Saudi's hajj

Survivors and relatives of victims of March's massacres at mosques in Christchurch are undertaking pilgrimage to 'pray for the martyrs'

200 hit by New Zealand massacre take part in Saudi's hajj
Families of victims of the March 2019 attack on mosques in New Zealand arrive at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AMER HILABI/AFP/Getty Images)

Two hundred survivors and relatives of victims of March's massacres at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, are undertaking the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia to "pray for the martyrs".

"I want the world to know who Atta Elayyan was," said 27-year-old Farah Talal, dressed in a green djellaba robe and an elegant white scarf during her visit to Islam's holiest city.

Her husband Atta was among 51 people killed when a white supremacist attacked worshippers during Friday prayers in the quiet New Zealand town, sparking global revulsion.

"He was a wonderful person, generous, I want to pay tribute to him," murmured the young woman of Jordanian-origin  who, along with 200 others affected by the massacre, was invited to the hajj by Saudi's King Salman.

Authorities have said they hope to "ease their suffering" as part of "the kingdom's efforts in response to terrorism".

The survivors and relatives of victims were given a heroes' welcome as they arrived on August 2.

They were also greeted by the flashes of press cameras.

The hajj, the high point of the Islamic calendar, began on Friday. Drawing in more than two million Muslims from around the world, it will last five days.

Atta Elayyan, of Palestinian-origin, ran an app development company and played goalkeeper for New Zealand's national futsal side. He left behind a two-year-old daughter.

"He gave us the strength to carry on every day. He is a martyr, just like all the other victims of the carnage," said Talal of her husband in a vast hotel complex reserved for guests of the Saudi royal family.

Amir Mohamed Khan, 14, lost his father Mohammed Imran Khan, a 47-year-old restaurateur originally from India, on March 15 in New Zealand's worst mass killing in modern times.

"I was in school on March 15," said Khan, his green eyes glistening as he wore a traditional salwar kameez. "I was very shocked, I didn't have any reactions... I couldn't believe it... I loved him so much.

"It will be very hard without him, but I'm thankful to be in Mecca today. I'm doing hajj for my father, to pray for him."

His friend Chouaib Milne, 16, lost his brother Sayyad Milne -- two years his junior -- when he was killed while praying in Christchurch's Al-Noor mosque, one of the two places of worship targeted.

"I was supposed to be at Friday prayers with my brother, but I was on a school trip," he said, wearing a white salwar kameez, along with a red and white checkered headscarf.

"When I'm at the Kaaba," the cubic structure in the Grand Mosque that is Islam's holiest site and towards which all Muslims pray, "I will pray for my brother and do hajj for my brother", Milne added.

Many Muslims in Christchurch were affected by the bloodshed, in a country where Muslims make up one percent of the population.

Afghan Taj Mohammad Kamran, 47, recounted how the attacker "shot me in my leg (and) after (that) shot one of my friends -- he was lost".

Kamran, his head wrapped in a turban, was shot three times in total and now walks with crutches.

"Before I had too much depression. Now I come here, I relax -- all Muslims want hajj"

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