March 23 (UPI) — Two mosques where a man shot and killed 50 worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand, reopened on Saturday.
Local police removed the security barriers at the Al Noor Mosque midday Saturday, allowing people to pray again inside the mosque, the New Zealand Herald reported. By that time, bullet holes inside the building had been plastered and painted over and broken windows replaced.
A handful of rooms at the mosque remained locked and off limits while portions of carpet had been ripped from the floor.
“It was really peaceful, a very deep peace, unexpectedly,” said Rehanna Ali, one of the first visitors to enter Al Noor, who added that she traveled from Wellington to offer support, New Zealand news site Stuff reported. “It was beautiful.”
Al Noor Imam Gamal Fouda led a small delegation of Muslims inside, along with dignitaries from the Middle East. He welcomed others in after a short sermon.
“[Fouda] couldn’t hold back his tears, and when he got up to give that first call to prayer there were times when he broke down, and he was holding that bloodied flag throughout,” Ali Mustsfa, a Turkish reporter who was part of the delegation, said.
There was still a police presence at Al Noor and the Linwood Islamic Center, where the same gunman killed seven people. Linwood also reopened to its congregation.
“We all feel like family, we pray together at the same time, we come together as family,” said Abdul Aziz, who was credited with saving lives at Linwood by throwing a credit card machine at the suspect and smashing his car window. “So I think of it not as losing a friend but losing a family member.”
A small group gathered outside Linwood before they were allowed to enter about 1 p.m. local time.