The longest 10 minutes of my life
My hands are still shaking. It is only upon my third attempt that I have been able to sit in front of my laptop and try my best to put to words the most horrific incident I have witnessed in my entire life.
There was no protocol today barring me, a journalist, from sitting inside the hotel room of Bangladesh captain Mahmudullah Riyad alongside Tamim Iqbal, Mominul Haque and Taijul Islam as I was given shelter by the players with the situation of the city in mind. They actually insisted that I stay in the room until it was safe for me to return to my hotel.
It's 12:00am midnight here in Christchurch. We have just watched the video of the shooting from the killer who recorded that massacre live and just looked at each other, mouths agape in disbelief.
After a while, Tamim received a phone call from his son, who asked: “Baba, how are you?"
“Baba, I survived today and I am coming to you soon,” was the reply from Tamim.
Going back to the start of the day, which was just like another day in New Zealand and everything was calm, but nature may have been warning us -- it was gloomy and the skies were dark, but I thought it was just another day in a country where the weather keeps changing.
As a journalist, it was a very important day for me as it was the day before the third and final Test between Bangladesh and New Zealand -- eventually cancelled by both boards -- and so I reached the Hagley Oval by 12:45pm.
Bangladesh captain Mahmudullah was scheduled to attend the pre-match press conference around 1:15pm, and the team bus arrived at the ground just before that.
The plan for the team was to have their lunch and then go to the nearby mosque, Masjid Al Noor, for Friday prayers, before starting the training session. There was talk about whether the team would go to Lincoln University to use the indoor facilities as overnight rain had rendered the outer nets of the Hagley Oval unusable.
Mahmudullah was five minutes late to the press conference as he had a meeting with head coach Steve Rhodes -- it was around 1:25pm. Mahmudullah rushed towards the press conference area when a journalist told him that he forgot his cap, which is mandatory for press meets, keeping the sponsors in mind. He went back again and it took two more minutes for him to return and attend the press meet.
These were actually the valuable minutes that eventually saved the whole team from being at the wrong place at precisely the wrong time. The players on the team bus were eagerly awaiting their captain's arrival to go to the mosque. A total of 17 members, including team manager Khaled Masud, analyst Shrinivas Chandrasekharan, and masseur Md Sohel, finally boarded the bus at around 1:35pm. Nayeem Hasan and Liton Das, along with spin coach Sunil Joshi, were not in the bus as they opted to stay at the hotel.
had not had breakfast and was hungry, so was heading towards a restaurant. All of a sudden I received a phone call around 1:52pm from Tamim, who had previously called another journalist.
“Can you please call the police and tell them to save us. There is a gunfight taking place inside the mosque,” Tamim told me with a quiver in his voice.
I could not believe it and thought it was a prank. When Tamim realised I had not taken the matter seriously he literally shouted at me and said: “I am not joking, please call the police!”
That was the moment that the gravity of the moment hit me like a ton of bricks -- or a shower of bullets -- and I called the police and started running towards the mosque. But I was not sure why I was heading in that direction.
Just when I reached the main road along with two other journalists from Bangladesh, a lady with a car stopped and said that she was also heading towards the place where the incident was taking place and asked whether we wanted to go there. We jumped into the car and headed towards the mosque, eventually getting off the car in front of a hotel.
It was around 1:58pm that I started running towards the mosque and soon I saw a body lying limp on the ground just near the entrance of a motel, being attended by paramedics.
As I ran further I saw a man walking towards me with blood all over his body. Still, my instincts told me to run towards the mosque as I saw the Bangladesh players disembark the bus just opposite the mosque and come towards me. I saw Mushfiqur Rahim crying and saying: “I have seen dead bodies."
The rest of the members warned me not to go further as we all took the route towards Hagley Park and headed towards the stadium.
It was the first time in my life that I have experienced the fear of death and I kept looking back, panic barely concealed, fearing someone might shoot me from behind.
It was the longest 10-minute walk of my life as, along with the members of the Bangladesh team, we finally reached the Hagley Oval where we got inside the dressing room.
The journalists were later taken to the Hadlee Pavilion, where we saw all the staff and grounds members gathered together.
The Bangladesh team were later escorted to the team hotel around 2:50pm safely, but we the journalists waited at the stadium.
After an hour we were also taken to the team hotel with the help of New Zealand cricket officials in their cars and we once again met the cricketers before team manager Masud briefed the whole incident to the media.
It was a Friday night, usually a party night in Christchurch, but last night there was not even a dog to be seen on the streets; only the sounds of police helicopters overhead. The Bangladesh team slept six or seven to a room last night.
Back to the day's horrors, it was around 1:45pm when the team bus was stopped by a lady just opposite the mosque as she shouted that there was a gunfight going on in the mosque. The bus, however, kept going for another few metres when another lady came out of her car and warned the bus driver not to go further.
That was the moment when the players realised there was something seriously wrong as they started seeing people coming out of the mosque with blood all over their bodies. The players ducked their heads beneath the window line and a few were crying, while others were peeping through the window.
It was around eight minutes that the team were left alone without any security. Talking about security, I have not witnessed any security personnel with the Bangladesh team throughout the tour. There was no security when the team went to the ground or even at the hotel, and that is perhaps because New Zealand is known as one of the safest countries in the world.
Going back to those eight horrific minutes in the bus, Tamim eventually decided that the team should move out of the bus and walk through Hagley Park towards the stadium.
Just a few minutes had passed between the gunman actually leaving the mosque after the massacre and the team bus arriving outside the place of worship. Had Mahmudullah not left his cap in the dressing room or if he hadn't attended the meeting with Rhodes which caused six to seven-minute delay... I don't want to finish that sentence.
But for me, my hands are still shaking and I don't know whether I will ever be able to forget this day for the rest of my life.