Hundreds of people gathered outside a mosque in Wellington, New Zealand, and locked arms to form a human chain, in a symbolic act of protection of the Muslim community during Friday prayer.
The move came as New Zealanders mourn the 50 victims of mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques on March 15, in a national day of reflection to mark a week since the terror attack.
Christchurch newspaper The Press had the word ‘salam’ (peace) in Arabic script in its front page, along with the names of the victims of the attack.
Witnesses said people of all races, ages and social classes linked arms during the call to prayer at the Wellington Islamic Community – known locally as the Kilbirnie Mosque – witnesses said.
“The atmosphere was sad, quiet, but determined. Many women wore headscarves,” Sue Teodoro, who was at the vigil, told CNN. “Many people cried openly. It was incredibly moving. People were determined that the community should pray without fear today.”
Others posted photos on social media of the chain going right around the block, surrounding the mosque. “It was probably a kilometer (0.6 miles) long,” Andy Burt, who took part in the event, told CNN. “By the time of the call to prayer it was two deep, so a couple of thousand people.”
After the prayer, there was complete silence and reflection for at least 15 minutes, he said.
Members of the Muslim community offered water and sunscreen to those standing in the sun, witnesses said. “They thanked the people in the chain for their support, but also asked that the support happens every day,” Burt said.
“The message from the community was clear: Terrorists will not break New Zealand’s spirit,” Teodoro added.