Christchurch shooting: Survivors convinced gunman visited mosque to learn layout

When Brenton Tarrant approached the doors of Al Noor Mosque at the start of his mass killing, he was welcomed with the words "hello brother".

So was it just friendliness? Or was it something more - familiarity?

The Imam of the Mosque has revealed that a man he believes was Tarrant pretended to pray with worshippers in the weeks leading up to the March 15 massacre. One worshipper even says they hugged him.

Gamal Fouda says Tarrant even dressed up in traditional Pakistani clothes.

The Imam is convinced the Australian terrorist went there several times to check the layout of the building and to observe the schedule of the mosque members as he planned his attack.

Last month Tarrant pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one terrorism charge.

Before the guilty pleas, Newshub couldn't report the Imam's comments about the terrorist visiting the Christchurch Mosque because they could hinder him getting a fair trial. But now we can report this exclusive story.

Fouda says in the weeks before March 15, a European man visited the mosque and prayed with the worshippers.

The Imam is adamant that man was Brenton Tarrant.

"Actually when they showed this nameless person on TV, people actually realised he came here at least three times," he tells Newshub.

"I have around five people who met him in this mosque, who talked to him - and he pretended that he is, he is Muslim and he came and he prayed in the mosque."

Tarrant may have wanted to blend in by pretending to be a Muslim. Instead, Fouda says, he drew attention to himself.

"One time he was wearing Pakistani dress.  He was wearing Pakistani dress. And people looked at him as a strange, strange person," he says.

"He doesn't look like Pakistani. He is not looking like Pakistani at all."

Tarrant had recently been in Pakistan. Facebook posts from late October 2018, less than five months before the terror attack, show him as a 'tourist' there.

He visited the cities of Skardu and Gilgit in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the picturesque remote villages of Pissan and Minapin in the Nagar Valley.

Christchurch shooting: Survivors convinced gunman visited mosque to learn layout
Photo credit: Newshub

And he seemed to enjoy it. Tarrant said: "Pakistan is an incredible place filled with the most earnest, kind-hearted and hospitable people in the world".

And yet, after he opened fire in Al Noor and Linwood Mosques, it was the kind-hearted people of Pakistan who suffered nine deaths.

People like Nadeem Khan, who lost brother-in-law Naeem Rashid and nephew Talha Naeem in the shootings.

"He is using the culture and the softness of the people to do something that is really bad," Khan says.

"He did his homework. He is a gutless person, he has no emotion. I don't call him a human being."

Christchurch shooting: Survivors convinced gunman visited mosque to learn layout
Photo credit: Newshub

In the aftermath of the shootings, and despite initial suppression orders, survivors saw pictures and mentions of Tarrant on international news sites and on social media.

And they remembered the "strange" European visitor to Al Noor Mosque.

"One of my friends, he hug him and embrace him. Then he sat beside him," Khan says.

"People saw him. They recognised his face. He came during the planning and the stuff. He came three weeks consecutively to the mosque during the Friday prayer," Fouda adds.

Remember - the initial attack on Al Noor Mosque took place during Friday prayers.

Fouda believes Tarrant was trying to work out the schedule of the Christchurch Mosque.

Christchurch shooting: Survivors convinced gunman visited mosque to learn layout
Photo credit: Newshub

"He talked to one person -  he said: 'Do you pray at the same time every Friday?' 'Yes'. 'And does the Imam deliver the speech at the same time every Friday?' 'Yes'. He was asking people the questions."

Some of the survivors and families of the victims have forced themselves to watch  Tarrant's livestream of the attack.

It has reinforced their view the terrorist visited the mosque before the shooting to learn the layout of the building.

"If you look at the way he behaved in here. He knew the place like his house - he did not try to open any door.  He knew beforehand where to stand," Fouda says.

"If you look, if you study where he was standing, if you analyse it you will know this man has studied the place carefully.

"He did not give any chance for anyone to attack him."

Christchurch shooting: Survivors convinced gunman visited mosque to learn layout
Photo credit: Newshub


Timeline of the shooting 

  • 29 seconds after parking in an alley off Deans Avenue, Tarrant approaches the entrance of the mosque.
  • 71-year-old Afghan refugee Haji Daoud Nabi is welcoming worshippers. He warmly greets Tarrant with the words "hello brother." Tarrant shoots him several times and walks past him.
  • At 41 seconds, he shoots into the women's hall - but keeps moving to the packed men's hall.
  • 6 seconds later he shoots repeatedly at people across the men's hall. Then he goes back to the car.
  • At 3 minutes 22 seconds Tarrant grabs a second weapon.
  • 35 seconds later he re-enters the mosque.
  • 11 seconds later he shoots at bodies piled up in the men's hall, then leaves.
  • 5 minutes and 39 seconds after it all began, he drove off towards Linwood Mosque.
Christchurch shooting: Survivors convinced gunman visited mosque to learn layout
Photo credit: Newshub

Another clue in shooting 

Tarrant left another clue Newshub is able to reveal.

A couple of days before the crime, the terrorist published something to his Facebook page. Amongst images of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik and of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist posted a crude collage including a picture of Al Noor Mosque.

The important point here is that Tarrant, and white supremacists, were not being monitored by New Zealand police or spies. If he had been, many alarm bells would have gone off.

Newshub has worked closely with members of Christchurch's Muslim community on this story.

They want to make it clear he didn't pray, that he pretended to pray, that he was an imposter.

What have Police said? 

Canterbury Police District Commander Superintendent John Price told Newshub that after detectives extensively reviewed CCTV footage as part of the investigation, it was found Tarrant had parked across the street before March 15.

Supt Price said despite an extensive investigation police could not find evidence to corroborate the Imam's belief that the gunman entered the Al Noor Mosque or its grounds prior to the March 15 attack.

Police also believe he viewed an online tour of the mosque.