Wellngton, Mar 28 (AP/UNB) — When the gunman began to attack the Al Noor mosque, Ahmed Alayedy scrambled to get to the nearest emergency exit. He was the first one there.
"I tried to open the door," he said. "But it doesn't open."
Alayedy and other survivors of the March 15 mosque attacks in New Zealand have described to The Associated Press a scene of confusion and terror at the door on one side of the main prayer room, in the first accounts of the role the door played.
Alayedy said so many people began crushing him against the door that some of his ribs cracked. Another survivor, Khaled Alnobani, says he thinks as many as 17 people may have died trying to get out through the door.
Investigators have likely examined a new electric locking system installed on the door in the days before the attack. The mosque says an electrician disabled that system the day before the attack, although some of those who escaped question whether that was the case. What is clear is that nobody managed to open the door that afternoon.
With the gunman in the middle of the room, the door represented the only escape route for those on one side of him, at least until people started smashing windows to get out.
Fifty people were slaughtered by the gunman at two Christchurch mosques during the attack, including 42 who died at Al Noor. Alayedy and others say that if the door had been wide open like it typically was during Friday prayers, many more people might have escaped.
Shagaf Khan, the president of the Muslim Association of Canterbury which oversees the mosque, said the door was closed and latched much like the front door of a house. He said it wasn't locked, although worshippers may have believed it was in the confusion.
He said an electrician had tested the new electric locking system on Thursday, and then disengaged it for Friday prayers. He said that to open the door, somebody needed to turn a lever. It was just happenstance, and perhaps the cool weather that day, he said, which meant the door wasn't wide open as usual.
"On any other Friday, the door would be open," he said. "But on this Friday, nobody opened that door."
He said he agreed that more people would have escaped if the door had been open.
"If it had been completely open, it would have been easy for people to get out," he said. "But nobody was prepared for this. We were prepared for an emergency like a fire or an earthquake, and people would still have time to get out. This is something totally different. You don't put this in your emergency plan."
Alayedy said that in the confusion, he can't be sure if he simply failed to turn the lever properly or if something else stopped the door from opening.
Alnobani, said he, too, tried to open the door and it didn't work, and he's familiar with the lever. He said he believes the door was electronically locked. Simply pushing a button next to the door would have unlocked it, he said, but nobody knew about the new system.
Khan said the mosque was in compliance with regulations, which require emergency exits to be clear from objects, easily accessible, and unlocked.
Police said the scene examination is part of their investigation and they will not be commenting while the investigation is ongoing.
Robert Wright, the Christchurch City Council head of building consents, said in an email the mosque was in compliance with the Building Act at the time of the attacks and had a valid certificate known as a "Building Warrant of Fitness."
Alayedy, 30, said that on the day of the attack, he'd been listening to a holy speech by imam Gamal Fouda when he heard six or seven shots. He thought it was an electrical fault at first but then heard screaming and ran for the door.
"All the brothers come in behind each other, on top of each other," he said.
Because he couldn't open the door, he said, he tried punching the hexagonal piece of glass in the lower part of the door. When that didn't work, he drove his knee through it, shattering the glass, and then kicked it out. He crawled through and ran for safety.
Alayedy, a chef from Jordan who moved to New Zealand nine years ago, said he thought about his family back at their house as he ran. His pregnant wife, his 3-year-old son, and the baby daughter they hope to have within the next couple of weeks.
Behind the mosque, Alayedy said, he began helping people to escape over a fence but couldn't get over it himself because of his injured ribs.
Another survivor provided a second escape route near the door by diving through a window with his arm wrapped around his eyes. Tarik Chenafa said he heard a tat-tat-tat-tat-tat and knew right away it was a semi-automatic weapon from his two years of compulsory military training in the Algerian army.
"I know someone is coming to kill us," he said.
Alnobani said that when he first came to the mosque that Friday, he'd noticed the side door was shut and considered opening it but then saw there were some older worshippers. It was a little cold and windy outside, he figured, so he left it alone.
Alnobani said he also managed to crawl through the door's smashed glass and run. He returned to help rescue a young boy whose father was shoving him through the opening, he said, and then helped the father as well.
"I tried to save the child, and I thought maybe I lose my life," he said. "But I am just alone," he said, adding "He had more than me to lose."
When he tried to help a third person through the opening, Alnobani said, that man was shot. The gunman walked out of the mosque to get another gun from his car, Alnobani said, and began shooting at him when he returned. But he managed to escape, and then drove two injured people to the hospital.
The gunman acted quickly, mowing down people on both sides of the mosque. On the side opposite from the closed door, some worshippers were able to escape, but the gunman also killed many others as they tried to leave.
"And he was actually standing behind them, and he was shooting and shooting and shooting and shooting," Fouda, the imam, told the AP after the attack. "Tragedy. Tragedy."
Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, has been charged with murder in the attack. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 5.
Chenafa said he's still sad and confused, and finds it hard to sleep. And he doesn't know what to believe about the door.
"There will be a lot of waiting to find out the truth," he said.
London, Mar 28 (AP/UNB) — British Prime Minister Theresa May offered up her job in exchange for her Brexit deal Wednesday, telling colleagues she would quit within weeks if the agreement was passed and Britain left the European Union.
May's dramatic concession that "there is a desire for a new approach - and new leadership" was a last-ditch effort to bring enough reluctant colleagues on board to push her twice-rejected EU divorce deal over the line.
It looked like it might not be enough, as a key Northern Ireland party said it would not be supporting the deal.
May's announcement came as lawmakers held an inconclusive series of votes on alternatives to her unpopular deal. It was the first step in an attempt by Parliament to break the Brexit deadlock and stop the country from tumbling out of the bloc within weeks with no exit plan in place.
May has been under mounting pressure from pro-Brexit members of her Conservative Party to quit. Many Brexiteers accuse her of negotiating a bad divorce deal that leaves Britain too closely tied to the bloc after it leaves.
Several have said they would support the withdrawal deal if another leader took charge of the next stage of negotiations, which will determine Britain's future relations with the EU.
In a packed meeting of Conservative legislators described by participants as "somber," May finally conceded she would have to go, although she did not set a departure date.
"I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party," she said, according to a transcript released by her office.
Anti-EU lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has clashed with May throughout the Brexit process, said she had been "very clear" that if Britain leaves the EU as foreseen on May 22, she will quit soon after.
He said the prime minister had been "very dignified."
"She put her case well, and reiterated that she had done her duty," he said.
It was unclear whether May's offer to resign would be enough to win backing for her deal, which was defeated by 230 votes in January and by 149 votes earlier this month.
High-profile Brexiteer Boris Johnson announced soon after May's statement that he would support the agreement, which he has previously called a "humiliation." Johnson is a likely contender to replace May as prime minister.
But other hard-liners said they would continue to reject the deal, and Northern Ireland's small but influential Democratic Unionist Party refused to budge in its opposition to the deal.
The DUP's support was seen as key to persuading other Brexiteers to back the deal. But the staunchly pro-British party fears a provision designed keep an open border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland after Brexit would weaken the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
"We cannot sign up to something that would damage the Union," DUP leader Arlene Foster told Sky News.
Asked if the party might abstain instead, DUP lawmaker Nigel Dodds tweeted: "The DUP do not abstain on the Union."
Two years ago, Britain triggered a countdown to departure from the EU that ended Friday, March 29, 2019. With that date approaching and no Brexit deal approved by Britain, the EU last week granted a delay. It said that if Parliament approves the proposed divorce deal this week, the U.K. will leave the EU on May 22. If not, the government has until April 12 to tell the 27 remaining EU countries what it plans to do: leave without a deal, cancel Brexit or propose a radically new path.
With May clinging to her Plan A — getting her deal approved — lawmakers this week seized control of the parliamentary timetable for debate and votes Wednesday on a range of Brexit alternatives.
The results underscored the divisions in Parliament, and the country, over Brexit. None of the eight plans received a majority of votes. The most popular were a proposal to remain in a customs union with the bloc, which was defeated 272-264, and a call to hold a public referendum on any divorce deal, which fell by 295 votes to 268. Both ideas got more support than the 242 votes secured by May's deal earlier this month.
A call to leave the EU without a deal was supported by 160 lawmakers and opposed by 400.
The plan is for the most popular ideas to move to a second vote Monday to find an option that can command a majority. Parliament would then instruct the government to negotiate it with the EU.
May has said she will consider the outcome of the votes, although she has refused to be bound by the result.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay urged lawmakers to back May's deal, saying the ambiguous result "demonstrates that there are no easy options here."
Barclay said he had introduced a motion to have Parliament meet Friday if needed for a vote on May's agreement, but it remained unclear whether it would go ahead. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said he would not accept another vote on the twice-rejected deal unless substantial changes were made.
Wednesday's votes produced inconclusive results, but could push Britain in the direction of a softer Brexit that keeps Britain closely tied economically to the EU.
That would probably require the U.K. to seek a longer delay, although that would mean participating in May 23-26 European Parliament elections.
Many EU officials are keen to avoid the messy participation of a departing member state.
But the chief of the European Council told European lawmakers that the EU should let Britain take part if the country indicated it planned to change course on Brexit. Donald Tusk said the bloc could not "betray" the millions of Britons who want to stay in the EU.
"They may feel they are not sufficiently represented by the U.K. Parliament but they must feel that they are represented by you in this chamber. Because they are Europeans," Tusk said.
London, Mar 27 (AP/UNB) — U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has told Conservative Party lawmakers that she will quit once the country has left the European Union — but she didn't set a date.
Conservative lawmaker James Cartlidge told reporters as he left the 1922 Committee of Conservative lawmakers that May told the gathering "she would not remain in post for the next phase of the negotiations."
Those will deal with Britain's future relationship with the EU.
Britain was due to leave the EU on March 29 but May has got a short delay after her divorce deal with the EU was rejected overwhelmingly by lawmakers on two occasions.
Britain's Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay has put down a motion to have Parliament sit on Friday — the clearest sign yet the government plans to bring Theresa May's European Union divorce deal back for a third vote.
Lawmakers in the House of Commons can sit on Fridays if they agree to do so.
He says "while I appreciate it may cause some inconvenience, I hope all members would agree that it's better to have it and to not need it, than to need it and not have it."
But it remains unclear whether the measure will be proposed. Commons Speaker John Bercow said Wednesday he would not accept another vote on the twice-rejected deal unless substantial changes were made.
British lawmakers will get to vote on eight widely differing options for the U.K.'s departure from the European Union.
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow selected the motions on Wednesday from 16 proposals submitted by lawmakers.
The ones to be considered include calls to leave the EU without a withdrawal deal, to stay in the EU's customs union and single market, to put any EU divorce deal to a public referendum, and to cancel Brexit if the prospect of a no-deal Brexit gets close.
The "indicative votes" are intended to reveal if any kind of Brexit plan can command a majority in Parliament. Lawmakers have twice rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal with the bloc.
The government has promised to consider the outcome of the votes, but not to be bound by them.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has faced more calls to resign during a bruising question-and-answer session in the House of Commons.
Before a vote by lawmakers on alternatives to May's twice-rejected Brexit deal, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn accused May of being "unable to compromise and unable to reunite the country." He told her she must "either listen and change course or go."
May is also facing calls from inside her Conservative Party to quit so that another leader can take over the next stage of Brexit negotiations. She is due to meet Conservative backbenchers later Wednesday.
Asked whether she would be resigning in order to get her Brexit deal approved, May said: "It is my sense of responsibility and duty that has meant I have kept working to ensure Brexit is delivered."
The leader of the House of Commons says Britain's government still hopes to bring Prime Minister Theresa May's European Union divorce deal back to Parliament for a vote this week.
Andrea Leadsom told the BBC on Wednesday that there is a "real possibility" the agreement will be considered on Thursday or Friday.
She says "we're completely determined to make sure that we can get enough support to bring it back." She added that the deal is the only way to guarantee Britain leaves the EU.
Some opponents say they may now vote for the deal amid fears parliamentary deadlock will lead to Brexit being delayed or abandoned.
Brexit supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg says May's deal is still a bad one, but "the risk is, if I don't back it, we don't leave the EU at all."
The chief of the European Union's Council says the bloc should be open to welcome Britain at the European Parliament's May 23-26 election even as it prepares to leave.
Referring to recent protests and petitions by pro-EU groups in Britain, EU Council President Donald Tusk told legislators Wednesday: "They may feel they are not sufficiently represented by the UK parliament but they must feel that are represented by you in this chamber. Because they are Europeans."
He said it is "unacceptable" to think, as some do, that Britain should not take part in EU business as the country prepares to leave.
"You cannot betray the 6 million people who signed a petition to revoke Article 50 — the one million people who marched for a people's vote or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union."
British lawmakers are preparing to vote on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May.
The House of Commons is scheduled to debate the various alternatives Wednesday, after which lawmakers will be asked to vote for all of the options they could accept. The most popular ideas will move to a second vote on Monday in hopes of finding one option that can command a majority.
The debate comes two days after lawmakers took control of the parliamentary agenda away from the government amid concern May was unwilling to compromise.
May has said she will consider the outcome of the "indicative votes," though she has refused to be bound by the result.
London, Mar 27 (UNB) - MPs have set out details of their plan to consider other Brexit options, as Theresa May was warned more ministers could quit unless she changes course, reports BBC.
The Commons will begin voting on alternatives on Wednesday, in a process likely to continue into next week.
MPs will fill out a series of ballots testing support for different ideas.
Ex-minister Alistair Burt said the PM must recognise a "different answer" was now needed but ex-Brexit secretary David Davis warned of impending chaos.
As MPs seek to take the initiative from the government, there are signs that some Tory opponents of Mrs May's deal could be steeling themselves to back it if it returns to the Commons for a third time later this week.
Prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg indicated that he could be persuaded, given it now appeared to be a choice between her deal and no Brexit at all.
Ex-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the BBC there was "no point" supporting Mrs May's deal "without any sign the UK is going to change its approach in phase two" of the negotiations - otherwise he feared the country would be indefinitely tied to the EU's rules.
But BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the not very subtle subtext of Mr Johnson's remarks was "if the PM promises to go soon, then she might get my vote."
MPs took the unprecedented step of voting to seize control of the parliamentary timetable on Monday, in an attempt to end the deadlock over the terms of the UK's exit.
Groups are now putting forward a variety of different options for the UK's future relationship with the EU.
Several of these are based on the assumption that the existing withdrawal agreement with the EU will be approved, albeit with changes to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.
Others call for a basic free trade agreement with the EU and another referendum on whether Brexit goes ahead. It will be up to Commons Speaker John Bercow to decide what is voted on.
What are some of the options?
Customs union: This calls for the UK to negotiate a new customs union with the EU immediately after it leaves.
Common Market 2.0:The UK would remain in the single market by rejoining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and staying in the European Economic Area (EEA). A "comprehensive customs partnership" would replace the Irish border backstop plan. It would accept continued freedom of movement but with conditions.
EFTA and EEA: The UK would rejoin EFTA and sign up to existing EEA rules and obligations but make them enforceable through the UK courts. Rejects any customs union with the EU, instead seeking agreement on new arrangements for Northern Ireland.
Malthouse compromise plan A: Mrs May's withdrawal deal but without the backstop, which would be replaced by alternative arrangements.
Another referendum: The public would vote on any Brexit deal which is passed by Parliament before it is ratified.
Revoke Article 50: If the government has not passed its withdrawal deal, MPs would vote on a no-deal Brexit two days before the UK's leaving date. If MPs reject no deal, the prime minister would have to cancel Brexit altogether.
According to a copy of a business motion released by Labour's Hilary Benn, there will be about five hours of debate on different options.
Voting by paper ballot will take place at about 19:00 GMT, with the results announced by Mr Bercow later that evening.
The process is likely to continue on Monday as MPs seek to whittle down options which could command majority support in Parliament.
The government has until 12 April to propose a different way forward to the EU if it cannot get the current agreement through Parliament.
There is a very strange mood around the place in Westminster, ahead of what could be a very messy and tricky day tomorrow.
MPs will spend much of Wednesday voting on different versions of Brexit. But the government is even at odds with itself over whether they should be given free rein to do so.
One source told me 19 ministers are ready to quit if they aren't allowed to have their say, which could, hypothetically at least, collapse the government itself.
London, Mar 26 (AP/UNB) — British lawmakers seized a measure of control over the stalled Brexit process from Prime Minister Theresa May's foundering government Monday, setting up a series of votes that could dramatically alter the course of the U.K.'s departure from the European Union.
The move came after May conceded that Parliament would defeat her twice-rejected divorce deal with the EU again if she put it to a third vote.
With Brexit delayed and the new departure date up in the air, the House of Commons voted to give itself temporary control of the parliamentary timetable starting on Wednesday so lawmakers can vote on alternatives to May's withdrawal deal. The government usually controls the scheduling of votes in Parliament.
Lawmakers who backed Monday's motion, which passed 329-302, hope the planned "indicative votes" will narrow the options down to one that can secure majority support. Possible options include a "soft Brexit" that maintains close economic ties with the EU or scrapping Britain's departure altogether.
Three government ministers quit their posts so they could back the motion. Richard Harrington, who resigned as a junior business minister, accused the government of "playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country" by failing to resolve Britain's Brexit impasse.
The government said it was disappointed by the vote, claiming it "upends the balance between our democratic institutions and sets a dangerous, unpredictable precedent for the future."
But it also conceded that the new votes might be a way to break the months-long Brexit gridlock. May said she would "engage constructively" with the results of the process, though she said she was skeptical that it would produce a decisive result.
The move raises the chances that Britain will tack toward a softer Brexit, and is likely to be welcomed by the EU. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit coordinator, tweet that it was an "opportunity to build a cross-party cooperation leading to an enhanced political declaration & a closer future relationship!"
Earlier in the day, May acknowledged, "with great regret," that her deal still lacked "sufficient support" to be approved as of Monday.
She said she hoped to hold a third vote on the agreement later this week and was working to build support for the deal, which sets out the terms of withdrawing from the EU and the outline of future relations with the bloc.
May warned opponents that continuing to reject the deal could lead to a "slow Brexit" that postpones the country's departure indefinitely.
With the March 29 Brexit day set almost two years ago days away and the withdrawal agreement lacking Parliament's approval, European leaders agreed to a postponement last week to avoid a chaotic cliff-edge departure that would be disruptive for the world's biggest trading bloc and deeply damaging for Britain.
However, the EU granted a shorter delay than May sought. It said if Parliament approves the proposed divorce deal, the U.K. would leave the EU on May 22. If not, the government has until April 12 to tell the 27 remaining EU countries what it plans to do - leave without a deal, cancel Brexit or chart a path to a new option.
In agreeing to the postponement, European leaders hoped Britain's deadlocked politicians would find a solution to the crisis. But the EU isn't counting on it. The European Commission said Monday it had completed planning for a no-deal Brexit, calling that outcome "increasingly likely."
The EU said its members would be able to cope with a no-deal departure, although more remained to be done on ensuring an open border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland — something both sides have agreed to. Checkpoints there were a source of tension and a target during the decades of sectarian violence before Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord.
An EU official said the bloc was in "in intense discussions with the Irish authorities about these matters."
May stands little chance of getting the deal she struck with the EU approved unless she can win over Brexit-backing lawmakers in her Conservative Party and its Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP said Monday that the party's "position remains unchanged."
May has come under intense pressure to quit the prime minister's post as the price of winning support for the deal.
At a meeting Sunday at the prime minister's country retreat, Chequers, prominent Brexiteers told May they might back the deal — if she agreed to step down so a new leader could take charge of the next phase of negotiations, which will settle Britain's future relations with the EU.
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who attended the meeting and is likely to be a contender in any future Conservative leadership race, accused the government of lacking "gumption" and chickening out on delivering Brexit.
Britain's best-selling newspaper, The Sun, put a call on its front page for the prime minister to resign under the headline "Time's up, Theresa."
May is hanging on, hoping she can persuade Brexit-backing lawmakers that rejecting her deal means Britain may never leave the EU.
She told lawmakers that Britain would not leave the EU without a deal unless Parliament — which has already rejected the idea — voted for it.
Opponents of Brexit feel the political tide may be turning in their favor. Hundreds of thousands of people marched through London on Saturday calling for a new referendum on whether to leave the EU or remain.
But with the deadline for a Brexit decision less than three weeks away, British politicians remain divided, and increasingly despairing about the country's political gridlock.
"Brexit is like the Death Star of politics," Conservative legislator George Freeman said. "I always feared it would be like this. It's destroying and soaking up all the prime minister's room for maneuver and political goodwill.
"I've never known this country so divided, so angry and in such a dangerous state," he said.