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'I looked him in the eyes': Pakistan family watches mosque shooter face justice in New Zealand

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Around 3 a.m. each morning this week, Khurshid Alam woke up in his Pakistan home to watch survivors give testimony against the man who shot dead 51 worshippers in New Zealand mosques, including his brother, Naeem, and nephew, Talha.

FILE PHOTO: Ambreen Naeem holds a medal which was posthumously awarded to her husband Mian Naeem Rashid for bravery, after being killed charging the attacker at an attack on Al Noor mosque in March in Christchurch, New Zealand June 13, 2019. Picture taken June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Charlotte Greenfield/File Photo

Divided by thousands of miles, a seven-hour time difference and the coronavirus pandemic shutting borders, Naeem’s widow, Ambreen, was among those who faced the shooter in Christchurch High Court and on Thursday heard his sentence.

White supremacist Brenton Tarrant, a 29-year-old Australian, was jailed for life without parole for the March 2019 attacks he launched on two Christchurch mosques while livestreaming.

“It was a very traumatic time, the last few days,” Alam said from his home in Lahore in eastern Pakistan. “What we have lost cannot come back, but at least we know that justice has been given.”

Alam had earlier watched the address by his sister-in-law, admiring her bravery. Alam’s wife also travelled for days amid the pandemic and spent two weeks in quarantine to provide support for Ambreen, who lives in Christchurch, in court.

Many victims’ families have watched from secure video links overseas and more than 50 received support to enter New Zealand, which has largely closed its borders to non-residents.

Ambreen described how her life had capsized since the moment last year, standing in a hospital in the early hours of the morning after the shooting, she realised her missing husband and 21-year old-son were not among the names hospital staff read out as injured.

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‘ACT OF BRAVERY’

“Since my husband and son passed away, I have never had a proper normal sleep,” she told the court, and the gunman, on Tuesday. “I don’t think I ever will.”

She also spoke of her pride in her husband, who was posthumously awarded for courage in Pakistan for charging at the gunman, buying precious time for worshippers to escape.

“Naeem died trying to save others and his act of bravery is something his sons will always feel proud for. His death was a reflection of his life,” she said.

Ambreen said she felt distressed watching survivor after survivor stand up to address the shooter, but that once she had delivered her speech, she felt a surge of victory.

“It was quite a relief to express my opinion in front of him,” she said. “I looked him in the eyes.”

Since losing her eldest son, who had just graduated as an engineer, and her husband and “best friend”, Ambreen has cared for her two surviving sons, is learning to drive, has taken her family on the Haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and endured New Zealand’s strict weeks-long lockdown.

Throughout, she said, her anxiety grew over what would happen to the shooter.

When the sentence was finally delivered on Thursday, her family from New Zealand to Pakistan felt some solace.

“I miss them. It’s a lifelong struggle for me,” she said. “But I felt like Naeem and Talha were there with me. I thought: they are waiting for justice to be done.”

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; additional reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Nick Macfie

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