Son's 'impossible hope' father is not among worshippers killed in Christchurch mosque attacks as family waits for news

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent John Ray

"Nothing makes sense," says Shadia Amin, while trying hard not to cry.

"I don’t understand how a person can go out and shoot peaceful people. Children too. There’s no reason to do that."

We are sitting in the front room of a family’s suburban house in Christchurch remembering a day they’d prefer to forget but in their minds must re-live over and over.

Last Friday afternoon, Ahmed Abdel Ghany was on his way to prayers at the Al Noor Mosque when he spoke to his wife on the telephone.

"So I said, 'Ahmad, after the prayer, go and spend time with your friends, don’t worry about us', says Shadia.

"And he said, 'Okay, yes, I have to hang up now for the prayers'. And that was the last time I heard his voice."

Their son, Omar, was late. As he approached the mosque, a friend, bare-foot, came racing towards him in panic.

"He had a look of horror on his face," said Omar.

"He was telling me to run. Then I heard the bang, bang, bang," he added.

Omar tried ringing his father’s phone. Dozens of times. His father didn’t answer.

Omar Abdel Ghany said he can't quite accept his father has gone. Credit: ITV News

Then a video of the horrors inside the mosque began doing the rounds on social media. Omar forced himself to look.

He said: "I know my Dad sits in a regular spot every time, and on the video in that spot there was a pile of bodies.

"And there’s a certain shot in the video where the camera scans across those. That’s the bit that I sort of focused on. And yeah, I think I did see a glimpse of Dad."

Omar continued: "But I didn’t want to say anything to Mum. I held that inside. I just kept it to myself in the hope I was wrong, that maybe he’s in the hospital, because I didn’t want her to worry. But inside I had a feeling."

Five days later, as police work to identify beyond doubt each of the victims, the family still don’t have Ahmed’s body.

So any plans for a funeral are up in the air. There’s a deeper issue too. Until he sees the body, Omar can’t quite bring himself to accept his father’s death.

"We’re sort of in limbo at the moment," he said, before adding: "I know it’s an impossible hope but because I haven’t seen him, you know, seeing is believing and I still don’t believe it because I haven’t seen it. Seeing the body is that final step."

Ahmed Abdel Ghany, Shadia Amin and their family. Credit: ITV News/Family handout

The family are from Egypt. In 1996, Ahmed and Shadia, who had well paid jobs in Cairo, moved to New Zealand for the chance of better schooling for their young son.

They worked hard, in recent years running an Egyptian food stall in local markets. The plan paid off. Omar got his education and his bright future.

But the future stopped last Friday.

Shadia said her husband "was a lovely man".

"He was decent. Everything that you can think about a human being that is really good. And everyone in the community loved him."

She added: "He was a gentleman. He never did any harm to anyone."

Mourners pay their respects near the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Credit: AP

While we talk, another group of well-wishers arrive at the house. The family are not alone in their grief.

"So many flowers, I could open a shop," said Shadia.

Omar looks for positives in the calamity that has befallen New Zealand’s Muslim community.

"The love we’ve been getting, the support, the food donations, we’ve been inundated. And from the bottom of my heart, we can’t say thank you enough.

"Someone asked me, 'Are you angry at the man who did this?' And honestly I am not. Because yes, he has taken a lot of lives, but these people are now martyrs who get a straight ticket to heaven.

"My Dad used to say, I either wish I died on the pilgrimage to Mecca, or at Friday prayers. He got what he wanted."

At a desperate time, that’s a comfort to cling on to. And in Christchurch this week, you take whatever comfort you can find.