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UAE-based New Zealand mosque attack survivor Adeeb Sami watches the sentencing hearing of white supremacist Brenton Tarrant in Christchurch, live from his Al Ain office on Tuesday. Image Credit: Supplied

Al Ain: Adeeb Sami, 54, has always been a morning person. But for the past two days, the Al Ain resident has been waking up much earlier than usual — at 3am.

That’s around when hearing begins in the sentencing of Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, facing life imprisonment for gunning down 51 Muslims at two New Zealand mosques last year — the worst such incident in the country’s history.

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Sami, who was seriously wounded in the mass shooting, has been provided an online link to watch the courtroom proceedings live from Christchurch, which is eight hours ahead of the UAE time.

When the court recesses for lunch, the New Zealander gets ready and drives down to his workplace in Liwa Centre at 6am, in time to resume watching the telecast. The four-day sentencing, which began on Monday, is likely to end on Thursday. Lawyers expect Tarrant to be the first person to be jailed for life without parole in New Zealand.

Sami, who flew back from Christchurch on August 15 after attending his daughter Hamsa’s wedding earlier this month, said he wants justice, not revenge.

“Tarrant deserves capital punishment but New Zealand doesn’t have death penalty. So we have urged the judge to impose the toughest possible sentence, which is life imprisonment without parole. There is no place for revenge in Islam. We have asked for justice and I am sure it will prevail,” said the father of four.

A director at American engineering firm Aesom in Al Ain, Sami said he is still haunted by memories of the March 15 attack.

He had arrived in Christchurch the previous day to surprise his twin children — daughter Hamsa and son Ali — on their 23rd birthday.

On the fateful day, he drove down to Al Noor Mosque for Friday afternoon prayers. Unknown to him, his sons Abdullah and Ali were also on their way to the mosque.

Adeeb Sami (standing fourth from left) at the wedding of his daughter Hamsa in Christchurch on August 8 this year. Image Credit: Supplied

Sami said the imam had barely started speaking in English when he heard a staccato burst of gunfire. “I thought somebody was bursting fire crackers, but when a bullet hit me in the back, I instantly realised we were under attack,” he recalled.

“As the shock wore off and the pain crept in, I caught a glimpse of my son Ali in the back room of the mosque. At the same time, I saw the terrorist. He had a horrid grimace and he was swearing and shooting anybody who had survived the first wave of shooting. I threw myself over Ali to shield him and got hit a second time — this time on the shoulder. Watching the gunman stroll leisurely and pick targets at will were the most agonising few minutes of my life. I had never felt so helpless. I thought this was it … that we are all going to die,” said Sami, who underwent three major life-saving surgeries in three days and spent months in hospital.

Several splinters of bullets remain lodged in his body. But it’s the traumatic memories of the massacre that have left deeper scars.

Seeing Tarrant live on television over the past two days have reopened those wounds. “He appeared to show no remorse for the crimes he committed. Instead he had a smirk on his face and this made my very angry. I lost so many friends and acquaintances in the carnage. There has not been a single day when I haven’t thought of them. I get recurring nightmares. The image of my Palestinian friend Abdul Fattah Qasem reciting the shahada in the last throes of death refuses to fade away and plays like a loop in my mind all the time,” he said. “Fattah was my dearest friend in New Zealand. He was sitting next to me in the mosque. When I got hit, he put his arms around my shoulder and consoled me saying, ‘Don’t worry Adeeb, I will save you’. But the shooter came back and shot him at point-blank. He died before my eyes.”

Some of those involved in the case have travelled to New Zealand from different parts of the world to attend the sentencing. More than 60 people have given victim impact statements, which are part of the ongoing hearing.

Sami said he had turned down suggestions to attend court hearings in Christchurch but has asked the judge to read out his statements during the sentencing.

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“I don’t want to see the killer in flesh and blood. But yes, I want my testimony to be read out in the courtroom. I want the killer to listen to our pain and live with it for the rest of his life.”

Sami said he hoped the verdict will bring closure and help him get on with life.

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The 29-year-old Australian gunman in March pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder, and terrorism, reversing an earlier not guilty plea.