Daoud Nabi had hoped he’d left bloodshed behind when he arrived in New Zealand as an Afghan refugee nearly 40 years ago.
But when a gunman flung open the doors of Masjid Al Noor Mosque in New Zealand during a weekly prayer service Friday, the 71-year-old grandfather sprang into action, flinging himself in front of a nearby worshiper to shield him from the spray of bullets, according to his 41-year-old son, Omar.
From there, police said the shooter drove about three miles across town to a mosque in Linwood, where he let loose with another barrage of bullets on Muslim worshipers.
Names of the victims in the horrific attack — one of the most deadly ever in New Zealand — haven’t been released yet. But Omar Nabi has since confirmed his father was among the 49 dead.
The elder Nabi, who fled violence in Afghanistan in 1979 amid the Soviet invasion, worked hard to establish himself and his family in their new home. He founded his own mosque and became president of the local Afghan Association so he could help other refugees who were struggling through the kinds of adjustments he and his family faced when they first arrived in New Zealand.
“He’s helped everyone who is a refugee,” Omar Nabi told NBC News, recalling how his father would often meet refugees at the airport to welcome them to New Zealand. And he would continue to offer his assistance from there, Omar noted.
“Whether you’re from Palestine, Iraq, Syria — he’s been the first person to hold his hand up,” he said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday called the Christchurch mosque attacks “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” acknowledging many victims are likely immigrants and refugees.
Numbers of residents in the diverse city have ties to the community that dates back generations, its reputation for safety appealing to refugees fleeing violence.
Khaled Mustafa, a refugee from Syria, was also killed in the attack, Syrian Solidarity New Zealand confirmed on its Facebook page. He and his family believed New Zealand would be their “safe haven” when they first arrived in 2018, the group said.
Mustafa was attending services with two of his children when they were struck by bullets. He and his oldest son, who was 14, died in the attack.
His other son, a 13-year-old, was in stable condition at Christchurch Hospital Saturday following surgery.
“He does not know that both his father and brother have been killed. His young sister does not know either,” Syrian Solidarity said in a statement.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to this family and all the families affected by this atrocious act of terror that has certainly terrorized New Zealand as a whole.”
At a press conference early Saturday, Ardern said consular representation is being provided for any foreign nations involved in the mosque shootings.