The fatal stabbing of MP Sir David Amess has been condemned as an “indefensible atrocity” in a joint statement from all of Southend’s mosques, as police said the attack may be linked to Islamist extremism.
Faith leaders said that the father-of-five was an “upstanding friend to our Muslim community” and attended key events, including weddings, mosque openings and the launch of the town’s first Muslim Scout group.
In a statement published on the Essex Jamme Masjid website, on behalf of “all Southend mosques”, they said their thoughts and prayers were with Amess’ family, friends and colleagues.
“Sir David’s murder was an indefensible atrocity, committed on the grounds of a place of worship and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” the statement said.
“This act was committed in the name of blind hatred, and we look forward to the perpetrator being brought to justice.”
Amess, 69, was fatally injured while meeting constituents at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday.
A 25-year-old man arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder is in custody at an Essex police station.
Scotland Yard said the country’s most senior counter-terror officer, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, has formally declared the incident as terrorism and said early investigations have revealed “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”.
Members of Southend’s Muslim community paid tribute to Sir David, with Ruhul Shamsuddin, joint secretary of Essex Jamme Masjid, describing the MP as a “tremendous force for good and pillar of support for our community”.
“This was senseless violence against a truly wonderful man,” he said.
Iftikhar Ul Haq, Imam, UKIM Southend Mosque and Dr Arshad Ghori, president, UKIM Southend Mosque, said Amess was “always reachable, he showed great compassion for communities and always was there to offer support”.
Ibrar Azam, secretary, Faizane Madina Masjid Southend, said he was “saddened” by Amess’ death.
Meanwhile, an Iranian opposition group has paid tribute to the career politician, describing him as a “human rights champion” and an “enemy of many dictators”.
Hossein Abedini was among several members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran who laid flowers and framed photos of the MP near the church where he died.
Mr Abedini told the PA news agency: “Sir David had a very important role in supporting the people of Iran, the uprisings happening in Iran, the Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf.”
As part of this, Amess had recently called on the government to ban Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric, from attending the Cop26 global climate summit in Glasgow, Mr Abedini said.
Southend councillor John Lamb said Amess had “helped so many refugees”.
“There are some Iranians in London he has helped so often with family and problems, even in their own country,” he said.
“They hold great respect and admiration for him and they are as devastated as we are that this has happened to him.”