Join mosque survivor on the Peace Train

PEARCE RIDE: Mazharuddin Syed Ahmed and Meg Christie

Mazharuddin Syed Ahmed’s story is one of a miracle.

A miracle he wasn’t killed during the terror attack on the Linwood Islamic Centre on March 15.

Now Mr Ahmed is organising a cycle ride with friend Meg Christie (above), called the Peace
Train, to strengthen bonds between different religious faiths.

The father-of-two was praying in the front row at the centre when the terrorist opened fire and shot dead the man to his left.

Mr Ahmed ran to a small room nearby and took what cover there was in a corner.

The gunman followed, shooting other people also in the room. He then ran out of ammunition; the gunman turned away and went outside to his car to reload.

In that fraction of a second, fate, luck was on Mr Ahmed’s side.

Mr Ahmed says he has been overwhelmed and “totally moved” by the outpouring of gestures, love, care and concern for the Muslim community.

Now he wants to promote love, unity, peace and inter-faith dialogue by combining it with another of his passions – cycling.

The Ara architecture tutor will help lead a memorial cycle ride on Sunday named the Peace Train, along with two friends, Canterbury District Heath Board health promoter Meg Christie and Winter Solstice Ride founder, Ian Wells.

The event’s name was inspired by Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, and his song, Peace Train.

“Why can’t we use cycling to promote inter-faith dialogue and come together to do something and keep this momentum going? New Zealand has beautifully presented how hate can be addressed with love,” said Mr Ahmed.

The event, which will take participants on a 10km ride to several faith-based sites in and around central city, has come together in a matter of weeks.

It will start at the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Ave, scene of the first terror attack, and end at the Linwood mosque.

Anyone can take part in the ride which will also travel to the Buddhist Temple, Hari Krishna Temple, the Jewish Synagogue, St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, the Transitional Cathedral and the Salvation Army Citadel.

At each site a two-minute greeting, peace message and blessing will be given.
Mr Ahmed moved to New Zealand in 2013 with his wife Sarah and two children, Huda, 15, and Umar, 11.

On March 15, like any other day, Mr Ahmed cycled to the Linwood mosque.

It was during prayer when he heard three gunshots ring out.

“I was waiting because there was a pause . . . immediately after three seconds I started to hear five or six shots and that’s when I said: ‘Oh no, this is something big.’

Because the gun shots were rapid and I knew it wasn’t a pistol or handgun,” he said.

“When people saw my friend getting shot they started to break the prayer and take cover. Everyone started screaming.

“By the time he came in (to the nearby room) he was very calm very steady, well in control. For someone who had shot people, run over bodies and driven the car that fast, you think you would have an adrenaline rush, you think you would be running around like crazy, but this guy was absolutely rock steady.”

Mr Ahmed said he started shooting at people in the room.

“He was ‘double-tapping’ people. He would shoot them, then when they were dropping down, he would shoot them again.

“Right in front of me he shot the lady and another of my friends, and again when he shot them, they dropped down and he went to shoot a second time and that’s when his bullets ran out.”

The gunman left the room and was then was approached by another worshipper, Abdul Aziz, who threw an Eftpos machine at him.

Mr Ahmed said one of the firearms, which was laying on the ground, was thrown by someone at the gunman’s car, smashing the windscreen.

“I think that scared him and he fled.”

Mr Ahmed rushed out to the main room, to find a friend dead. He ran to another man who was calling out for help and tried to provide medical assistance.

“I sat next to him holding his hand trying to find the bleeding and stop it, but I couldn’t find the wounds. All of his chest and upper body was covered in blood.”

It was at that moment when police entered the mosque, calling for everyone to evacuate, as they were unsure if there were more shooters.

“I was shaking, in shock. I wasn’t sure what was happening around me . . . I was scared, terrified, so many things were running in my mind. Is it safe to live in this country anymore? What will happen in the future?”

Mr Syed Ahmed lost many friends and his aunt in the attack.

“It was a life-changing event for me in many ways . . . when I arrived home, I was a different man.”
•TAKE PART: The Peace Train cycle ride, Sunday, 1.30pm at Al Noor Mosque, 101 Deans Ave. The event will finish between 3-4pm at Salvation Army Citadel, 177 Linwood Ave.