Colombo, September 4:  The beleaguered Muslim community in Sri Lanka, under pressure from the government since the 2019 multiple suicide bombings in the island nation, is thankful to the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for not blaming the Muslims as a community for the Auckland shopping center knife attack on Friday in which seven people were injured.

The alleged attacker was identified by Ardern as being of Sri Lankan origin, but she is yet to reveal his name and religious affiliation citing a  “suppression order”. Ardern only said that he was a “violent extremist” who the security agencies were already trailing. Media reports said that he was an ardent follower of ISIS, that he had tried to join the ISIS, and that he had been in prison before for all these.  

Be that as it may, on Friday, 22 Sri Lankan Muslim organizations in a joint statement condemned the terror incident in Auckland. The statement said: “We are shocked and saddened to hear about the terrorist attack carried out in Auckland today by a person of Sri Lankan origin living in New Zealand. On behalf of all Sri Lankans, and the Sri Lankan Muslim community in particular, we unequivocally condemn this senseless and terrible act of violence.

“We also concur with the statement by JacindaArdern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, that hate crimes and acts of violent extremism are not, and must not be, associated with any nationality, ethnicity, culture or religion.

“We express our solidarity with the people of New Zealand at this moment of grief. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. ‘Whoever kills an innocent life it is as if he has killed all of humanity… And whoever saves a life it is as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.’ (Holy Quran 5:32)”

The signatories of the statement were: All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), All Ceylon Union of Muslim League Youth Front (ACUMLUF), All Ceylon YMMA Conference, All Universities Muslim Students Association (AUMSA), Anjuman E Saifi (Sri Lanka) Trust Dawoodi Bohras, Association of Muslim Women Professionals and Entrepreneurs, Association of Muslim Youth of Sailan(AMYS), Center for Islamic Studies (Harmony Center, CIS – HC), Colombo District Masjids Federation (CDMF), Kandy District MasjidsFederation (KDMF), Markez Islamic Center (MIC), Memon Association of Sri Lanka (MASL), Moors Islamic Cultural Home (MICH), Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL), Muslim Ladies Study Circle (MLSC), RPSL Consortium, Sri Lanka Jamaathe  Islami (SLJI), Sri Lanka Katheeb & Muazzin Welfare Organization (SLKMWO), Sri Lanka Muslim Civil Society (SLMCS), Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMFF), Sri Lanka Muslim Womens Conference (SLMWC), Zam ZamFoundation (ZZF).

The Sri Lankan Society of New Zealand said in a statement: “A terrorist who attacks innocent and defenseless people is not one of us. We wholeheartedly condemn the acts of violence carried out by this individual and his ideology.This horrific act has no please in any religion, race or ethnicity.”

Society President Faleel Gaffoor thanked the police and first responders at the scene “who had been working tirelessly to bring this situation under control.”

The Sri Lankan government is yet to react to the incident but an un-named official was reported saying that Colombo is awaiting more information from New Zealand.

Attacker’s Shady Past

Prime Minister Ardern had said the man came to New Zealand in 2011 as a 22-year-old, travelling on a student visa. Whether he held extremist views at the time was unknown. He first came to the attention of the police in 2016 after posting extremist material and reposting videos on Facebook. The videos were about war and violence, including a terror bombing in Europe. He was spoken to twice by police in April and May 2016.

He was arrested at Auckland International Airport in May 2017, as police believed he was travelling to Syria to join ISIS. A search of his home found a hunting knife and “restricted publications”. He pleaded guilty to knowingly distributing restricted publications, and was charged for failing to assist police with a search. But he was released on bail.

After two days on bail, he bought another knife. He was arrested again and more extremist, objectionable material was found. He was placed in custody and that for years while facing these charges. But attempts to prosecute him under the Terrorism Suppression Act, in July 2020, failed. However, he remained in custody awaiting sentencing for other charges, and during this time he assaulted corrections officers – leading to further charges.

The man was convicted for possession of objectionable material in May 2021. On July 6, having spent three years in custody, he was sentenced to 12 months supervision.

“GPS monitoring was sought by the Crown, but this was not imposed by the courts … given all legal avenues to continue his detention had been exhausted, officials prepared for his release,” Prime Minister Ardern said.

But surveillance began immediately, Ardernadded. At times there were up to 30 police officers working on monitoring the man. Ardernrepeatedly said that government agencies had exhausted every legal avenue to kept the man out of the community. At one point, Arden took advice on whether it was possible to have him sectioned as a mental health patient. But the man had refused to take psychological assessments.

Continuing Threat From Extremism

It was on March 15 2019 that a White gunman massacred 51 Muslims praying at the al-Noor mosque in Christchurch.  The nation’s judiciary handed the assailant an unprecedented life sentence without parole. Changes to firearms laws prohibited ownership of the types of semi-automatic weapons used in the attacks. The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) and police collaborated on a new strategy to “increase the safety, protection and resilience of crowded places”.

But threats did not decrease. In fact it went up from “low” to “medium” which meant that attacks were “feasible and could well occur”notes Dr.Alexander Gillespie, Professor of Law and Waikato University in a piece in

According to Dr. Gillespie, a White nationalist serving in the military was charged with espionage. A well-armed teenager who posted inflammatory and extreme views appears to have planned to attack his school. There was an arrest in Christchurch following a threat to attack the same mosques targeted in 2019.  These suggest that security agencies need to be exceptionally vigilant — more so than they have appeared to be recently, Dr.Gillespie said.

The public knows New Zealand is part of the powerful Five Eyes global intelligence network. Expecting a few obvious keyword searches within known extremist online hotspots is hardly unreasonable. While the police and NZSIS may have largely escaped blame for the original March 15 attack, their defense of difficulty in identifying an attacker in advance cannot be used twice, he added.

“Finally, and despite initiatives such as the Give Nothing to Racism campaign (launched two years before the Christchurch attack), it is debatable whether racism and intolerance in general have declined at all.

The Christchurch royal commission found that nearly everyone it met with had personally suffered racist incidents or discrimination, Dr.Gillespie said.

Evidence does suggest we have a real problem. From 2004 to 2012 alone, there were about 100 race-related incidents, ranging from murder and kidnapping to serious assault, threatening and disorderly behaviour, abuse, deliberate damage to property and desecration of sacred sites, he pointed out.

“The Human Rights Commission reports race-related prejudice remains the commonest complaint. While the trend has improved, the numbers remain high: 426 complaints in 2017-18, 369 in 2018-19 and 383 in 2019-20. Even these small advances may have been washed away by the anti-Chinese and Asian racism reported during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr.Gillespie observed.

But he admits that trying to gauge the real levels of racism and intolerance is difficult. Even the police are unsure of how bad it is as almost half of probable hate crimes are wrongfully downgraded because the majority of staff do not know how to code them.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here