Terror attack: Sri Lankan reverend, Imam speak out from Southland

Reverend of Catholic diocese church of Dunedin, Jacob Thevasahayampillai, who lives in Outuatau, says Southland Sri Lankans are feeling scared and ashamed after hearing the Auckland terrorist was one of them.
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Reverend of Catholic diocese church of Dunedin, Jacob Thevasahayampillai, who lives in Outuatau, says Southland Sri Lankans are feeling scared and ashamed after hearing the Auckland terrorist was one of them.

A Sri Lankan reverend has condemned the terrorist attack in Auckland and asks Southlanders to remember that terrorism has no face.

Reverend Jacob Thevasahayampillai said: “We’re sorry that this unfortunate thing has happened. Sri Lankans are usually kind, loving, hardworking people.”

Sri Lankans throughout the region asked him to speak out because they felt the attacker had damaged their reputation.

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“This has created unnecessary anxiousness, for both Kiwis and Sri Lankans. Everyone will see us differently, for a few days, at least.”

Ahamed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen​, 32, walked into a Countdown supermarket in Auckland on Friday afternoon, and took a knife from the shelf to attack shoppers, injuring seven people before being shot dead by two police officers.

Samsudeen came to the attention of authorities for his extremist activity, Immigration NZ in May 2018 began an attempt to remove his refugee status. The attempt to revoke refugee status came after he tried to travel to Syria to join the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis), and was charged with distributing Isis propaganda.

Thevasahayampillai called the man a “lone wolf with absurd ideology,” that did not represent his people.

There were four major religions in Sri Lanka and all were based on respect, kindness, and love, he said.

While most of the Southland Sri Lankan families were not concerned for their safety, some held fears that the incident would mean more scrutiny applying for visas – whether for work or residency – which could lead to delays for them, Thevasahayampillai said.

“We ask New Zealand to act quickly to tighten terrorism laws, not immigration law. We ask the government not to penalise individuals because of this. We continue to be friends and do whatever the government asks us to.”

Kavinda Herath / Stuff
Southland Imam Reza Abdul-Jabbar speaks one year after the Christchurch Mosque shootings.

The Southland Sri Lankan community shared the pain and trauma of the victims and prayed for their healing, he said, encouraging anyone who was struggling to reach out for help.

Many in his community were still reeling from a series of suspected ISIS attacks in hotels in churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in 2019, which local authorities later said were carried out in retaliation for the Christchurch Mosque attacks.

“We're also living in fear. The ISIS presence is everywhere,” Thevasahayampillai said.

In the days following the Christchurch mosque attacks, the Southland Muslim community came together to grieve.

While not the targets this time, the Muslim community was in shock over Friday's attack – which was made tougher by alert level three restrictions.

Imam Reza Abdul-Jabbar said: “In times like these, a hug and a cuppa wouldn’t go amiss.”

“We all want to know what pushed him into this wrong understanding [of the Muslim faith], but regardless, it’s unacceptable.”

Imam Dr Reza Abdul-Jabber outside the Mosque in Invercargill after returning from visiting the Christchurch Mosque in 2019. Terrorism has no face or religion, he says.
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Imam Dr Reza Abdul-Jabber outside the Mosque in Invercargill after returning from visiting the Christchurch Mosque in 2019. Terrorism has no face or religion, he says.

The attack was heinous, Abdul-Jabbar said, adding that he struggled to sleep after hearing the news.

The terrorist had sought refugee status in New Zealand, saying he had been attacked, kidnapped, and tortured in Sri Lanka for his political background.

But Abdul-Jabbar said no trauma could be an excuse for extremist views.

“We have to stop giving any terrorist an escape clause. Islam condemns all acts of terrorism. He is not one of us.”

He invited Southlanders with questions about his faith to reach out and visit the mosque or share in robust conversations.

“We can’t understand unless we open up,” he said.