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'Phone just keeps ringing': Desperate son searches for father after mosque massacre

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Image: Grieving members of the public following a shooting at the Al Noor m
Grieving members of the public wait after a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday. -
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Martin Hunter
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Omar Nabi skipped Friday prayers because of work.

But news of the attack at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in New Zealand's Christchurch filled Nabi with fear: His devout and community minded father had been there.

The mechanic rushed to the mosque as soon as he heard reports of the massacre, only to be told that his father, Daoud Nabi, 71, had thrown himself in front of another worshiper and been shot.

Fear and anxiety gripped Nabi, 43.

"If he was alright he'd answer his phone but his phone just keeps ringing," he told NBC News from a local hospital.

Forty-nine people were killed and dozens of others injured in the mass shooting at two mosques in the city, according to New Zealand police. Aman aged in his late 20s had been charged with murder, they said.

Nabi said it made sense that his father would try and save someone who was in danger.

Daoud Nabi with his granddaughter.
Daoud Nabi with his granddaughter.Courtesy Omar Nabi

"He's helped everyone who's a refugee," he said, describing how his father went to the airport to greet refugees, and help get them started in their new lives.

"Whether you're from Palestine, Iraq, Syria — he's been the first person to hold his hand up," Nabi said.

His work on behalf of refugees was most likely linked to the family's experience. In the 1980s when Nabi was six, they emigrated from Afghanistan to New Zealand in the wake of the Soviet Union's invasion.

Daoud Nabi, an engineer, had set out to grow roots in their new home, founding a mosque and becoming the president of a local Afghan association. The family prospered and grew to include nine grandchildren.

Now Nabi hardly knows what to do with himself.

"I'm a bit lost," he said. "He is a man of lots of knowledge and I've been his student for a long time."

Other families were also desperately searching for news. Janna Adnan Ezat from Christchurchposted on Facebookthat she has not been able to make contact with her son who was at one of the mosques.

"I don't know whether my son Hussein El Omari is alive or dead," she wrote. "The roads are blocked and we families are waiting at the hospital for word."

Ezat said her son's phone also rang without answer and that his car was not at home.

"I ask for your prayers," she wrote.

According to Ezat's Facebook profile, she is originally from Iraq.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke out for the migrants and refugees who appeared to be the targets of what she deemed a terrorist attack.

"They have chosen to make New Zealand their home and it is their home. They are us," Ardern said in a press conference earlier Friday.

"Christchurch was the home of these victims," she added. "In fact for many, New Zealand was their choice."

Then Ardern addressed the attacks' perpetrators: "You may have chosen us but we utterly reject and condemn you."

From 2014 through January, a total of 4,333 refugees arrived in New Zealand, according to government statistics. They mainly came from Syria, Myanmar and Afghanistan. In addition, 1,836 people claimed asylum in the country over the same period. New Zealand has a population of around 4.9 million.