The murder of 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 the MP – a married 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.
Sir David, 69, was stabbed to death 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 Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, the country’s most senior counter-terror officer, has formally declared the incident as terrorism and said early investigations have revealed “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”.
In a statement published on the Essex Jamme Masjid website, on behalf of “all Southend mosques”, they said their thoughts and prayers were with Sir David’s 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.”
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 Sir David 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 Sir David’s death.
Meanwhile, an Iranian opposition group has paid tribute to Sir David, 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 said: “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, Sir David 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 Sir David 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.”