British MP's killer was referred to anti-terror scheme

It is believed the suspect, a Briton of Somali heritage, acted alone and was self-radicalised

LEIGH-ON-SEA (England) • The attacker who fatally stabbed British lawmaker David Amess last week had been referred to an official counter-terrorist scheme for those thought to be at risk of radicalisation, according to media reports.

Police said that detectives have until Friday to question the suspect after he was detained under the Terrorism Act, which allowed them to extend his detention.

Conservative MP David Amess, 69, was talking with voters at a church in the small town of Leigh-on-Sea east of London when he was stabbed to death last Friday.

Police said over the weekend that they are investigating "a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism". The investigation is being led by Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorism Command.

The BBC said it had received confirmation from Whitehall officials that the attacker's name is Ali Harbi Ali.

Ali, a British citizen of Somali heritage, had been referred to Prevent, Britain's scheme for those thought at risk of radicalisation, a few years ago, the BBC reported.

It is believed Ali did not spend a long time on the programme, which is voluntary in nature, and was never formally a "subject of interest" to MI5, the domestic security agency, the BBC said.

Police and security services believe the attacker acted alone and was "self-radicalised", The Sunday Times reported, while he may have been inspired by Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists in Somalia.

Ali's father Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, confirmed to The Sunday Times that his son was in custody, adding: "I'm feeling very traumatised."

Police said they have been carrying out searches at three addresses in the London area in a "fast-paced investigation".

The Sun tabloid reported that the attacker stabbed Mr Amess multiple times in the presence of two women employees, before sitting down and waiting for police to arrive.

The Daily Mail newspaper reported that he had booked an appointment a week ahead.

Last Saturday evening, hundreds of mourners attended a candle-lit vigil at a sports field near the scene of the crime, holding a minute's silence in the MP's memory.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had visited the crime scene to pay his respects earlier that day, laying floral wreaths outside the church with Mr Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, in a rare show of unity.

Local residents including members of the Muslim community also left bouquets next to the police tape.

Britain's politicians have been stunned by the highly public attack, which recalled the murder of a pro-European Union lawmaker ahead of the Brexit referendum.

In June 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a far-right extremist, prompting demands for action against what lawmakers said was "a rising tide" of public abuse and threats against elected representatives.

Home Secretary Priti Patel last Friday ordered police across the country to review security arrangements for all 650 MPs, and The Sunday Times reported that every MP could be granted security protection when meeting the public.

"We will carry on... We live in an open society, a democracy. We cannot be cowed by any individual," Ms Patel told journalists after laying a wreath for her fellow Essex MP.

Ms Patel also said the Prevent counter-terrorism programme is undergoing an independent review following the attack on the veteran politician.

"It's timely to do that, we have to learn, not just from incidents that have taken place, but how we can strengthen our programme," Bloomberg cited her as saying on Sky News' Trevor Phillips Show.

Mr Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP who tried to save a stabbed police officer during a 2017 terror attack near the Houses of Parliament, in a post on Twitter, urged "a temporary pause" in surgeries, or face-to-face meetings with constituents, until the security review is completed.

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle wrote in The Observer that "we need to take stock" and review whether security measures introduced after Ms Cox's murder are "adequate to safeguard members, staff and constituents, especially during surgeries".

British MPs and their staff have been attacked before, although it is considerably rare.

But their safety was thrown into sharp focus by Brexit, which stoked deep political divisions in the country and has led to often angry, partisan rhetoric.

Ms Cox's killer had repeatedly shouted "Britain first" before shooting and stabbing the 41-year-old MP outside her constituency meeting near Leeds, northern England.

Mr Amess was at the other end of the political spectrum and backed Brexit.

Meanwhile, a specialist police unit set up to investigate threats against MPs in the aftermath of Ms Cox's murder said 678 crimes against lawmakers were reported between 2016 and last year.

Mr Amess himself wrote about public harassment and online abuse in his book Ayes & Ears: A Survivor's Guide To Westminster. It was published last year.

"These increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians," he said.

MPs have had to install security cameras and meet constituents only by appointment, he added.

Unlike some MPs, Mr Amess publicised meeting times for constituents on Twitter and held the sessions in public places, while asking people to book ahead.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2021, with the headline 'British MP's killer was referred to anti-terror scheme'. Subscribe