Hundreds of Turks held a symbolic funeral prayer in front of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul for the victims of the New Zealand mosque attacks. The terrorist who killed at least 50 people gave reference to The Hagia Sophia and Istanbul.

Backdropped by Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine-era cathedral that was turned into a mosque and now serves as a museum, demonstrators protest against the mosque attacks in New Zealand, in Istanbul, Saturday, March 16, 2019.
Backdropped by Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine-era cathedral that was turned into a mosque and now serves as a museum, demonstrators protest against the mosque attacks in New Zealand, in Istanbul, Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP)

Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the Hagia Sophia Mosque to mourn the victims of the New Zealand mosque attacks that killed at least 50 people, holding a symbolic funeral prayer.

The right-wing extremist, Brenton Tarrant, charged over the attacks in Christchurch apparently published a manifesto online that Turkish media said contained specific references to Turkey and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

On Saturday, around 500 protesters gathered outside the Hagia Sophia, which is now a museum but was once a church before being turned into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire-era.

The crowd unfurled banners that read "Muslims, stand tall!" and "Muslims, unite!" and conducted a short prayer service for the victims.

Police stepped up security around the area, with dozens of officers flanking the demonstration, some on horseback and others carrying riot shields.

"Everyone is aware of the rising Islamophobia all over the world; assailants find the courage to launch such attacks because of Muslims' timidity," said Faruk Hanedar, one of the demonstrators.

TRT World's Francis Collings reports from Istanbul. 

Australia-born 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant appeared in court Saturday and was charged with murder.

The Friday attacks on worshippers are thought to be the worst act of terror against Muslims in the West and have sparked an outpouring of grief and horror across the globe.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday condemned the murders, saying that hostility towards Islam was spreading in Western countries "like a cancer".

"With this attack, hostility towards Islam, that the world has been idly watching and even encouraging for some time, has gone beyond individual harassment to reach the level of mass killing," Erdogan said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies