CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (Reuters) - As a heavily-armed man entered Christchurch’s al Noor mosque and began gunning down worshippers, Sardar Faisal happened to be in the bathroom, Sheikh Fahad ran and Amir Daud was just pulling up with his wife in their car, moments late for Friday prayers.
They were among the fortunate survivors of New Zealand’s worst mass-casualty shooting, which has left 50 people dead and scores wounded.
Al Noor was the first of two mosques the gunman attacked.
Shortly after the shooter had arrived at the building across a busy road from Christchurch’s botanical gardens, Hina Amir was pulling up to drop off her husband, Amir Daud for prayers.
He had barely stepped out of the car when shots rang out, sending him leaping back into the vehicle.
“My wife said: ‘I think it’s shooting.’ I said: ‘No, that cannot happen in Christchurch, no way, it’s just an electricity short or something,’” Daud told Reuters.
Seeing people running from the mosque, Hina began manoeuvring the car around the small driveway, by which time the gunman was coming out of the building.
“Suddenly we got fire from the shooter,” Daud said. A young man running toward them from the mosque was gunned down before his eyes.
“He got two bullets in front of me. I saw it. The whole burst then came to us,” Daud said.
“I pushed down my wife and leaned myself on her.”
Shots ricocheted through the car, bursting high through windows, low through the dashboard and all around, filling the car with smoke and air-conditioning gas. But not one touched Daud or his wife.
Using their hands on the pedals, the couple moved the car just enough and escaped and to safety in a nearby house where the owner was screaming at them to come in and hide.
Inside the mosque, over the course of the previous five minutes, the gunman had repeatedly shot worshippers, leaving more than a dozen bodies in one room alone.
He returned to the car during that period to change guns, and went back to the mosque to shoot anyone showing signs of life. Forty-one people died at al Noor mosque.
“The first two or three noises we just ignored, and then we realised something was going wrong,” said Sheikh Muhammed Fahad, who was inside the men’s prayer room.
He dashed for the corner of the mosque. Finding a gap already smashed through the glass at the bottom of a door, he crawled through as the shooter shot towards the front of the room.
“It was just that moment, so I could escape and I just ran, ran, ran, ran and I thought the danger was over for me but then I went out and tried to reach my wife and she was like: I am also here.”
Fahad’s wife, who usually did not attend the mosque on Friday, had just dropped off his 65-year-old mother, who was visiting from Pakistan.
She survived, but saw too much. “I saw my mum was standing in the door. She was ok, but she was very disturbed. She saw the bodies, she saw everything.”
Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian citizen, has been charged with murder in relation to the killings, and police have said he will face further charges.
“Everybody is saying that we are the luckiest ones,” Daud said. “My friend Faisal is also lucky because when the shooter came into the mosque, he had just gone into the toilet and all the all the time he remained in the toilet and he is a survivor.”
“I just thanked God he did not move into the washrooms...I thanked God my wife was ok.”
Editing by Praveen Menon and Lincoln Feast