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UK police declare fatal stabbing of lawmaker David Amess a 'terrorist incident'

The assailant is reportedly a 25-year-old British national with Somali heritage who had been under Prevent 'radicalisation' watch
British lawmaker David Amess was stabbed to death on Friday at a meeting with local voters (davidamess.co.uk)

UK police have arrested a 25-year-old man on suspicion of murder and declared a “terrorist incident”, after a lawmaker was stabbed to death on Friday during a meeting with constituents in a town east of London.

Conservative MP David Amess, 69, was knifed repeatedly when an assailant lunged at him as he was talking to voters in the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea at midday on Friday.

The Metropolitan Police have declared the fatal stabbing as a “terrorist incident”, with its counter-terrorism unit leading the investigation.

'All our hearts are full of shock and sadness at the death of Sir David Amess MP. He was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics'

- Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister

In a statement released shortly after midnight on Saturday, the force confirmed that a 25-year-old suspect had been arrested in connection to the incident and that early investigation had “revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism".

“As part of the investigation, officers are currently carrying out searches at two addresses in the London area and these are ongoing.

“It is believed that he acted alone, and we are not seeking anyone else in connection with the incident at this time,” the statement added.

Multiple UK media outlets, citing sources, have reported that the suspect was believed to be a British national with Somali heritage.

The Guardian newspaper said the man has the same details as someone who had previously been referred to the Prevent scheme, the official programme for those thought to be at risk of radicalisation.

“Tragic Day for Democracy”

On Saturday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid flowers at the church where Amess was killed a day earlier.

Johnson, interior minister Priti Patel, and Labour Party leader Keir Starmer were among those to lay flowers in tribute to Amess at the scene of the murder.

Members of the public also came to lay bouquets next to the police tape surrounding the crime scene.

Colleagues from across parliament have expressed their shock and paid tribute to Amess, one of Britain's longest-serving lawmakers, for his commitment to his constituents, with whom he held regular meetings on the first and third Friday of the month.

Johnson said Britain had lost a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague.

His predecessor Theresa May described Amess as “a decent man and respected Parliamentarian killed in his own community while carrying out his public duties. A tragic day for our democracy".

The Southend West MP was stabbed while holding a surgery, which are one-to-one meetings with voters, open to whoever turns up.

Armed police swooped on the church and paramedics fought in vain to save the lawmaker's life on the floor of the church, where a sign says: "All are welcome here: where old friends meet and strangers feel at home”.

Tribute to MP David Amess Conservative Party
Tribute from the Conservative Party posted on MP David Amess' website, on 16 October, 2021, following his death (Screengrab)

Popular local figure

Members of the public and media also took to social media to share their memories of the late lawmaker.

“I’ll remember David Amess as an MP who did not always have a harmonious relationship with his local paper, but was willing to join forces with it to stand up for his constituents and their families…,” tweeted journalist Carl Eve.

Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of the now defunct Quilliam “counter-terrorism” organisation posted a series of tweets praising Amess for upholding civil liberties and opposing state power.

https://twitter.com/MaajidNawaz/status/1449326676949733376

Amess was the Chairman of Qatar All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and had recently met with refugees from Afghanistan who are being looked after in Qatar. 

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party leader, said he was “shocked and devastated by the news of Amess’ passing.

“I’ve just returned from Qatar as part of a Parliamentary delegation that David led. It was a privilege to spend the last week with him… Not only was David professional and knowledgeable on the visits, but he was also great company to share time with.

“David was an outstanding MP, a great colleague, and someone I was proud to call a friend.”

The Qatar Embassy in London also posted a tribute to Amess on Twitter, calling him “a leader in building ties between the UK and the people of Qatar - a true friend to our country".

Security under review

The attack on Amess, who was a member of Johnson's Conservative Party, comes five years after the murder of Jo Cox, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, and has prompted a review of the security of elected politicians.

Cox, who fought for the rights of migrants and celebrated the polycultural nature of her constituency, was murdered in the lead-up to the Brexit referendum as she prepared to hold a constituency surgery on 16 June 2016. Witnesses claimed the alleged attacker cried “Britain First” as he launched his attack.

Cox's sister, Kim Leadbeater, who is also a Labour MP, said that following Amess' death her partner had asked her to step down from her role. 

In Westminster, where lawmakers do much of their work in parliament, armed police are on patrol. But in their electoral districts, known as constituencies, more often than not there is no security.

Conservative lawmaker Tobias Ellwood said that while engagement with the public was a vital part of the job, there was now huge anxiety among MPs and called for a pause in such meetings.

Patel on Friday ordered police across the country to review security arrangements for all 650 MPs.

At the same time, the interior minister insisted the attack would not stop MPs from holding face-to-face meetings with residents in the areas they represent.

"We will carry on... We live in an open society, a democracy. We cannot be cowed by any individual," she told Sky News after the wreath-laying.

Amess himself wrote about public harassment and online abuse in his book "Ayes & Ears: A Survivor's Guide to Westminster", 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 only meet constituents by appointment, he added.