Saudi King invites survivor and victims’ relatives of New Zealand shooting to make holy pilgrimage to the Hajj

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They survived the Christchurch terror attacks. In Mecca, they’re finding peace as Hajj pilgrims//CRIMSON TAZVINZWA

(CNN)When 31-year-old Maryam Gul laid eyes on the Kaaba this week, it was a moment of complete peace. The cube-shaped structure, and most sacred shrine of Islam, felt a world away from the Linwood mosque at Christchurch, New Zealand where her mother, father and brother were fatally gunned down earlier this year.

“I thought I am looking at a symbol, a symbol of peace. A symbol of God. He’s here,” Gul told CNN.
Gul is one of 200 people who arrived in Mecca, Saudi Arabia from Christchurch this week to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which began on Friday. They are survivors of the March 2019 terror attacks at two Christchurch mosques as well as the relatives of those who were slain in the shootings.
Fifty-one people were killed in the attack by a white nationalist gunman during Friday prayers.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman extended the invitation to the group for the all-expenses-paid pilgrimage in July. CNN’s interviews with Christchurch pilgrims in Mecca were facilitated by the kingdom’s Center of International Communications.
In a statement published by the official Saudi news agency, Minister for Islamic Affairs Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh said the state-funded trip was part of the kingdom’s efforts to “confront and defeat terrorism and terrorists.” Christchurch survivors and victims’ relatives say the pilgrimage has been a means to healing from the violence that changed their lives.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has invited about 200 victims’ relatives and survivors of the Christchurch massacre to his country for a holy pilgrimage.

The Saudi king is paying for the airfare, accommodation and travel costs, which could cost over $1 million, as they perform hajj, the holy Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

The pilgrimage is required for all able-bodied Muslims to perform at least once in their lifetime, with many believers saving for years to make the trip. The annual pilgrimage draws nearly 2 million Muslims from around the world to Mecca and sites around it.

HORRIFIC FOOTAGE OF CHRISTCHURCH MOSQUE SHOOTING SURFACES ON YOUTUBE AND INSTAGRAM

The Saudi ambassador to New Zealand, Abdulrahman Al Suhaibani, said the king invited the survivors and victims’ relatives because he was shocked by the March 15 attack at two mosques by an Australian white supremacist that killed 51 people.

Among those who have accepted the king’s offer was Temel Atacocugu, a 44-year-old kebab shop co-owner, who was seriously scarred by nine bullets shot by the gunman.

Atacocugu was confronted by the gunman face-to-face during the shooting, with the gunman firing a bullet into Atacocugu’s mouth, shattering his jaw.

“And then I said, ‘Oh my God, I am dying.’ When I see he’s shooting, when I see the smoke, I said, ‘Yeah, I’m dying.’ That’s the first thought,” said Atacocugu, adding that he then began protecting his vital organs as the shooter continued to fire bullets at him.

He said that since the tragedy nearly five months ago and extensive recovery efforts, he now feels “reborn” and welcomes the opportunity to express his gratitude to God for being given the chance for a new life when he participates in the hajj.

SAUDI ARABIA GRANTS WOMEN RIGHT TO OBTAIN OWN PASSPORTS, TRAVEL WITHOUT MALE GUARDIAN

In this July 31, 2019, photo, Temel Atacocugu, who was shot nine times during the Christchurch mosque attacks, tries on the clothes he will wear during the Hajj pilgrimage, in Christchurch, New Zealand. He is among 200 survivors and relatives from the Christchurch mosque shootings who are traveling to Saudi Arabia as guests of King Salman for the Hajj pilgrimage, a trip many hope will help them to heal. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

The king typically invites several hundred people each year to perform the hajj as his own guests, often picking those most touched by tragedy that year. The ambassador said this was the first time he invited anyone from New Zealand.

Two weeks ago, the ambassador traveled to Christchurch to hand out the simple white garments the male pilgrims will wear. The terry cloth garments worn by men are meant to strip pilgrims down of adornment and symbolize the equality of mankind before God.

“It’s a wonderful time and this is a golden chance for people to get spiritual elevation,” said Gamal Fouda, the imam at the Al Noor mosque, one of the two mosques that were attacked.

Fouda, who also survived the shootings, said he’s traveling with the group as a spiritual leader. He said the memories of the shooting remain fresh in everybody’s minds and his mosque hasn’t yet returned to normal.

“The most important thing is that the New Zealand community, including Muslims, they stood together against hate,” Fouda says. “And we are still saying that hate is not going to divide us. We will continue to love each other.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Kamala Harris Thinks Donald Trump is a Coward

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The President’s obviously racist tweets were, well, obviously racist//CRIMSON TAZVINZWA

Kamala talks about going after Joe Biden during the last democratic debate,

Donald Trump siding with dictators over the United States intelligence community, his obsession with the four democratic congresswomen, his abuse of power, the vote to provide 9/11 first responders with benefits, Medicare for all, pharmaceutical companies charging way too much for prescription drugs, political polls, and she reveals what she’ll do if she becomes president

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Ilhan Omar Introduces Resolution to Defend Americans’ Right to Boycott

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Legislation is unveiled as Omar plans visit to Israel next month, testing Israeli anti-boycott law ■ Text cites boycott of Nazi Germany as example for other boycotts of ‘Americans of conscience’//CRIMSON TAZVINZWA

Under fire from U.S. President Trump and ahead of a newly-announced trip to Israel and the West Bank, Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has introduced a resolution championing the right to participate in…

Omar, and America wrestle the scourge of a racist President

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar proposed a resolution this week supporting the right to boycott Israel, likening the boycott of the Jewish state to boycotts of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union

Omar, and America wrestle the scourge of a racist President 

 

Omar’s resolution seeks to push back against U.S. laws banning the boycott of Israel and affirms the right of Americans to organize boycotts of foreign countries if they so wish.

While the resolution doesn’t explicitly name Israel or the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, she told media outlets that the resolution concerns the Jewish state.

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REUTERS Reporters freed from Myanmar prison

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YANGON –

Myanmar frees Reuters journalists jailed for reporting on Rohingya crisis

Two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar after they were convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act have walked free from a prison on the outskirts of Yangon after spending more than 500 days behind bars.

Reuters journalist Wa Lone is swamped by his fellow reporters after being released from prison alongside colleague Kyaw Seo Oo.

As he left Yangon’s Insein jail, Wa Lone thanked everyone who had called for their release, adding: “I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. And I can’t wait to go to my newsroom.”

When asked if he could continue to be a journalist in Myanmar, he replied: “I am a journalist. I am going to continue.”

The two journalists were reporting on the massacre of Rohingya Muslims when they were arrested and sentenced to seven years in jail for breaking Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.

They were freed when President Win Myint issued a pardon for 6,520 prisoners.

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Sri Lanka CHRISTIANS: ‘Save us from the Satans’; they pray after surviving attacks

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BATTICALOA (Reuters) – A dozen rifle-toting soldiers guarded a small community hall as day broke in the eastern Sri Lankan town of Batticaloa on Sunday morning.

Nuns attend a prayer meeting to show solidarity with the victims of Sri Lanka’s bomb blasts, outside a church in Kolkata, India [Rupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters]

Around 9 a.m. local time – roughly the same time a suicide bomber killed 29 of their fellow parishioners at the evangelical Zion Church two weeks ago – worshippers streamed silently into the hall.

Survivors of the attack on Easter Sunday ambled in on crutches or with an eye patch. Some clutched bibles. Many wiped away their tears.

Inside, several hundred worshippers knelt on the tile floor with their arms lifted toward the heavens, beseeching Jesus Christ to grant salvation.

“Come to our protection in this world where we are being hit by waves,” their voices sang out in Tamil

More than 250 people were killed and nearly 500 wounded in the attacks by Islamist militants on churches and hotels across the Indian Ocean island on April 21.

The suicide bombers were identified as members of Islamist militant groups based in Sri Lanka, but Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Although Islamic State gave no evidence to back up its claim, Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena told Reuters in an interview on Saturday that he believed the group orchestrated the attacks that plunged Sri Lanka in a nightmare.

The government has warned that the militants were plotting more attacks, and police and military were conducting a security sweep of schools ahead of the staggered re-opening of state institutions on Monday.

“Save us from the Satans who are trying to destroy our nation,” the Christian worshippers in Batticaloa chanted.

Zion would need more repairs before the church could be used again. There were also no services at St Sebastian’s Church in Negambo, where at least 102 people perished.

But a mass was held behind closed doors at St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo, the third church bombed that day.

The suicide bomber who attacked the congregation in Zion Church had hailed from the neighboring town of Kattankudy just across a lagoon from Batticaloa.

Witnesses say Mohamed Nasar Mohamed Asath was close to a generator, magnifying the power of the blast when he activated the bomb in his backpack.

Fourteen children, many of whom were having breakfast in the church portico, were killed and several dozen worshippers in this largely low-income congregation were wounded, according to Zion church officials.

“Why does the Lord take us through this fire?” Reverend Roshan Mahesan said, his voice breaking, after about an hour of singing.

Slideshow (10 Images)

Mahesan, who was traveling on Easter Sunday and missed the bombing, praised parishioner Ramesh Raju, who reportedly kept the bomber from entering the main church hall because he grew suspicious of him. Raju died in the blast.

Worshippers also prayed for the injured, like 30 year-old Arul Prashanth who helped others before collapsing from shrapnel that pierced his shoulder and back.

“Lord heal them,” worshippers sang in unison.

Reporting By Alexandra Ulmer and Omar Rajarathnam in BATTICOLOA, additional reporting by Shihar Aneez in COLOMBO; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Simon Cameron-Moore

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