Police, tradesmen rush to prepare ravaged mosque for Friday prayers


Christchurch (New Zealand) (AFP)

New Zealand police and tradesmen are working intensively in the hope of readying the Al Noor mosque to hold Friday prayers, just a week after it was the centre of a racist shooting which left 50 dead.

"Police have been working relentlessly, doing everything in our power to gather all appropriate evidence from what are active crime scenes so we can allow people to return to the mosques as quickly as possible," a police spokesman said, referring to Al Noor and a second mosque in Christchurch attacked by the gunman.

An army of carpenters, glaziers, gardeners and carpet layers could be seen entering the Al Noor grounds Thursday and the police spokesman said they were trying to return the mosque to its original state.

The areas around the mosques remained cordoned off and guarded by armed police, but the spokesman said they were working "to allow the Muslim community back into the mosque on Friday for Friday prayers".

Fifty people were killed and as many wounded when a self-avowed white supremacist sprayed bullets through Al Noor, where 42 died, and the smaller Linwood Avenue mosque several kilometres (miles) away.

Christchurch man Jatinder Saggar has issued a public invitation for people to join him for Friday prayers with more than 2,600 indicating support on his Facebook page.

If the mosque is not ready, the Friday prayers will be held across the road in the spacious Hagley Park.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called for the nation to observe two minutes of silence on Friday and said the call to prayer would be broadcast live by the state-owned radio and television in a show of support for the Muslim community.

New Zealand women were also being encouraged to wear headscarves as a gesture of solidarity with Muslims on Friday, the Muslim holy day.

"We are going to pray here on Friday," the Imam Gamal Fouda told the New Zealand Herald from behind the cordon opposite the mosque.

"We will never forsake it to please those people who actually attacked us," he said.

Linwood mosque Imam Alabi Lateef Zirullah said his congregation will join the Friday prayer at Al Noor.

Sagger said the people answering his call to prayer would form a human wall outside the mosque.

"If the mosque isn't open, we will make the circle opposite the mosque in the cricket grounds, Hagley Park," he said.

Police said they would continue to maintain a presence at both mosques when they reopen "for the public?s reassurance and safety".