Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is being held by police on suspicion of murdering Conservative MP Sir David Amess
The terror suspect accused of stabbing Sir David Amess to death has been pictured for the first time.
Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is being held by police on suspicion of murdering the veteran Conservative MP as he met with his Southend West constituents on Friday afternoon.
Police and intelligence officials are said to be mystified about why the 69-year-old Tory politician was singled out for attack by a suspected Islamist extremist. Reports had initially suggested that Sir David, a devout Roman Catholic and prominent Brexiteer who was MP for Southend West, had been selected because of his political views or religion.
Investigators now believe that there may have been no specific motive for the targeting of Sir David, and that the 69-year-old was stabbed to death because his alleged killer had plotted to kill any national politician – and had succeeded in booking a face-to-face meeting with him at a church in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday.
Sources close to the investigation believe Ali may have considered killing other MPs, including Labour and Tory politicians, before picking Sir David, according to The Telegraph. One government insider told the paper: ‘He was unlucky. He was not targeted because of his political party. David Amess was not specifically targeted.’
Last night former friends of Ali, a British national of Somali heritage who grew up in a three-bed 1980s terrace house in Croydon with his mother, two sisters and brother, claimed he was radicalised after watching YouTube videos of convicted hate preacher Anjem Choudary. Speaking to The Sun, they claimed the videos turned Ali from a ‘popular pupil into an extremist’.
Separately, it emerged yesterday that the 25-year-old had been referred to Prevent, the Government’s counter-terrorism programme, several years ago – but that his behaviour was not considered to be extreme enough to alert MI5. Referrals to Prevent are not necessarily passed on to MI5.
His referral is understood to have coincided with a deterioration in his relationship with his Somali-born parents. Ali’s parents split up when he was young and his father returned to Somalia. One neighbour, who has known the family for twenty years, said that Ali spoke of hopes of becoming a doctor with the NHS, saying: ‘He told me he’d been doing exams and he seemed westernised.’
But after finishing school, Ali is alleged to have shown an interest in radical Islam and was referred to Prevent. He decided to move in with an aunt and her sons in a council house in the upmarket North London enclave of Kentish Town, in a street of £2million three-storey townhouses.
Police are also investigating the alleged close ties between Sir David and Qatar. The Tory MP was chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Gulf state and returned from his latest visit there on Wednesday last week. The man being questioned over the stabbing is the son of a former adviser to the office of the Prime Minister of Somalia. Qatar supports the present Somali President. Security sources told The Times that all avenues were being explored in the case.
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Detectives meanwhile have been interviewing the father of murder suspect Ali at a home in North London. One former friend, Harbi Farah, told The Sun: ‘I have known his dad Harbi for more than ten years. He’s a good man and this will be very upsetting for him. He’s a well-respected member of the Somali community in Britain and also in Somalia.’
Officers raided Ali’s ‘childhood home’ in Croydon on Friday. It comes as Met Police officers were yesterday seen guarding a property in a tree-lined street in North London, where Ali is believed to currently live. Police were seen walking into the property and a blue and yellow tent was erected outside the council-owned property on the street, where homes sell for around £2million.
It comes as intelligence officials are believed to have warned Ministers that Britain could face a wave of terrorist attacks carried out by ‘bedroom radicals’ – so-called ‘lone wolf’ terrorists who turned to extremism after spending months at home during the Covid lockdown.
‘Counter-terror police and MI5 have been concerned for some time that once we emerged out of lockdown there would be more people out on the streets and more targets for the terrorists,’ one security source told The Telegraph.
It has also emerged:
- Police could be called in to guard MP surgeries to keep them safe following the murder of Sir David;
- Home Secretary Priti Patel added that she wanted to ensure MPs could be ‘accessible’ to the public;
- Officers have been carrying out searches at a north-west London property in relation to the murder;
- Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s police chief has contacted elected representatives in the region to discuss their security, Stormont Justice Minister says;
- Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has said he does not want to see an end to face-to-face meetings with constituents and he urged the ‘hate’ in politics to stop.
Police and intelligence officials are said to be mystified about why the veteran Tory politician was singled out for attack by a suspected Islamist extremist. Investigators now believe that there may have been no specific motive for the targeting of Sir David, and that the 69-year-old was stabbed to death because his alleged killer had succeeded in booking a face-to-face meeting with him at a church in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday
Police officers erect a tent outside a house in north London, thought to be in relation to the death of Sir David
MP Mark Francois lays flowers at the scene near Belfairs Methodist Church in Eastwood Road North
Candles are lit next to a portrait of David Amess during a vigil for him at St Michaels Church, in Leigh-on-Sea
People look at flowers left by the police cordon nearby the Belfairs Methodist Church
The Met Police confirmed that the killing of Southend West Sir David Amess (pictured) is being treated as a terror incident ‘with links to Islamist extremism’ as a British man with Somali heritage remains in police custody on suspicion of murder
As police continued to quiz the London-born suspect, his father spoke of the family’s shock. Harbi Ali Kullane, a former media and communications adviser to the Prime Minister of Somalia, said he was ‘traumatised’ by his son’s arrest.
He added: ‘At this particular moment we are going through [an] unprecedented and horrific situation.’
Shock: Harbi Ali Kullane, who was a Somali government adviser
Mr Kullane spoke out as details emerged about the suspected killer’s upbringing in south London.
Detectives have been piecing together the suspect’s movements in the hours before Friday’s attack.
They have not found any obvious affiliation to a terrorist group and do not believe Ali had ever previously met Sir David. They have found nothing to suggest the MP was attacked because of his voting record, ‘but that could well come out as a factor’, a source said.
Police upgraded the attack to a terrorism incident on Friday night after interviewing the suspect. Officers spent the weekend searching his home and yesterday erected a forensic tent in the front garden. Others were seen walking inside holding shovels, suggesting the rear garden was being dug up.
CCTV footage from nearby convenience stores has been seized by police, suggesting Ali walked past them to reach the nearby Gospel Oak station to travel to Sir David’s constituency surgery at the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Friday morning.
One neighbour told how armed police swooped on the suspect’s north London home hours after the attack.
‘They all arrived in the early afternoon – it was very dramatic,’ he said. ‘It’s absolutely horrifying to think the property is linked to the MP murder. They’ve been here ever since doing a lot of work.’
Another neighbour described the household as ‘polite, respectful and decent’. He said: ‘There was often a tallish chap outside who would be around 25. He would smoke outside. He’d always say hello.
‘They’re a good family. This is off the scale. It’s horrendous.
‘They were all great. I can’t believe it. They were polite and respectful.
‘It’s very shocking that he may have travelled from this street to reach the MP’s constituency. It’s incredible.’
Mr Kullane returned to the UK two years ago to have a heart operation on the NHS, neighbours said. He lives with his sister in the north London district of Bounds Green, and the home was also visited by police over the weekend.
Police also searched the Croydon house where the suspect’s mother and siblings live. Officers spent more than 24 hours scouring the premises and took the family away, with police warning them that they would not be returning for a while.
A neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: ‘The kids used to go to a mosque nearby, but I didn’t think they did any more. They’ve been very good neighbours.’
Sir David’s family said their hearts had been ‘shattered’ by his ‘cruel and violent death’ at a constituency surgery in Essex. They said they could not understand why the ‘patriot and a man of peace’ was targeted by a knifeman he had never met.
Left to right: Katie, wife Julia, Flo, Sir David Amess, Sarah and Alex
Forensic officers at the scene near the Belfairs Methodist Church in Eastwood Road North, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer join Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle as they pay their respects to Sir David
People look at flowers left by the police cordon nearby the Belfairs Methodist Church
Priti Patel hints police will guard MPs’ weekly surgeries and refuses to rule out ending anonymity on social media to curb threats
Priti Patel today insisted MPs must keep meeting voters as she hinted that police will guard weekly surgeries – and refused to rule out ending anonymity on social media to curb threats.
The Home Secretary said it would be unacceptable for the murder of Tory veteran David Amess to ‘break the link between an elected representative and their democratic role, responsibility and duty to the people who elected them’.
She confirmed that security has already been ramped up since the deadly attack with politicians reminded to share their locations with police.
The government is looking at ensuring every MP gets officers on guard at their surgeries – a move backed by Speaker Lindsay Hoyle.
Ms Patel also said the government is ‘looking at’ whether there needs to be more action to stop threats and abuse being posted anonymously online.
However, Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, a close friend of Sir David, lashed out at the police for ignoring threats.
The 69-year-old father of five was ambushed at his Friday meeting with the public and stabbed 17 times in a frenzied attack. In a heartbreaking statement his family called for people to ‘set aside hatred’, adding: ‘Nobody should die in that way. Nobody.
‘Whatever one’s race, religious or political beliefs, be tolerant and try to understand. We are absolutely broken, but we will survive and carry on for the sake of a wonderful and inspiring man.’
Detectives were last night still quizzing Ali who was arrested on suspicion of Sir David’s murder at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday.
The British-born Muslim, who is of Somalian descent, had been referred to the Prevent programme over radicalisation fears by a concerned member of the community.
It is understood that the referral was not made by a member of the police or the security services.
It is not known whether it was a friend or relative, or someone from healthcare, education, social services or a religious group.
It resulted in Ali taking part in a course, which is believed to have been a ‘Channel’ mentoring scheme. Despite this intervention, which is thought to have taken place several years ago, MI5 was apparently not alerted and Ali was not investigated as a potential terror threat by police.
Priti Patel said a review of Prevent would examine whether it was ‘fit for purpose’.
‘It’s right that we review what works, what doesn’t work, what needs bolstering if there are any gaps, all of that, because Prevent isn’t just about policing,’ the Home Secretary said. ‘Prevent is about how multi-agency partners come together.’
Yesterday critics questioned whether experts missed opportunities to stop a suspect described by investigators as a ‘lone wolf’ extremist.
Sam Armstrong of the Henry Jackson Society think-tank said: ‘Questions must be asked about this case. Counter-extremism professionals seem to have lost sight of their duty which is to prevent terrorism.
‘There has been an under-referral of Islamist cases and an over-referral of extreme Right-wing cases and we are now seeing the deadly consequences. The Prevent review has been derailed by Left-wing groups trying to litigate every aspect of its work and yet a cold hard look at the number of cases in which Prevent has fallen short shows this is only the latest in a long line.’
The Home Office scheme, which has an annual budget of around £40million, has been under scrutiny for years after a series of terrorists slipped through its net, including Reading attacker Khairi Saadallah.
The Government first promised scrutiny of Prevent in 2019, the year after parliament’s intelligence and security committee highlighted a series of shortcomings.
But the independent review did not start formally until earlier this year and has still not reported back to Miss Patel.
Former justice secretary Robert Buckland called for a shake-up of Prevent to ensure a more ‘joined-up’ approach. He said more co-operation between schools, the NHS and other public agencies was required to ensure security forces could intervene early and prevent attacks.
Prevent programme will be reviewed to see if it is ‘fit for purpose’, says Priti Patel – as it is claimed suspect in David Amess terror murder ‘had been referred’ to anti-radicalisation scheme
The Home Secretary has said the Prevent programme is being reviewed to ensure it is fit for purpose as it is claimed the suspect in the murder of Sir David Amess ‘had been referred’ to the scheme.
Priti Patel said the independent review of the programme, which is aimed at stopping people from being radicalised, would help ‘address any gaps’ in the service.
It comes after reports that the prime suspect in the murder of Sir David Amess was known to counter-terror police and it is believed he had been referred to the Prevent programme.
The Southend West MP was stabbed to death at a constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Friday afternoon.
Scotland Yard have since designated the incident as a terror attack and counter-terror officers are leading the investigation, probing motives linked to Islamist extremism.
‘I very much hope that when it comes to community supervision and community involvement with people like this particular individual, that it is much more joined-up between health services, education, whatever it might be, who have had some involvement with that individual in the past,’ he told Times Radio.
‘And that element of being joined-up is what we really need to work on urgently.’
He added: ‘There may be records or information from schools or colleges or from the health service which can tell us much more about individuals and their activities. We need to join this up much more effectively because what we’re talking about here is community prevention.
‘We’ve got to make sure that every arm of the state is absolutely working together in order to understand as much as possible about these individuals, and then to intervene if we judge the risk to be so significant that an intervention could prevent the sort of appalling incident that we saw not just last week but also in the Jo Cox case and other examples.’
Mrs Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was murdered by a far-Right fanatic in the street in 2016 as she was about to carry out a constituency surgery.
A Tory former Defence Minister doubled-down on his call for a temporary suspension of public meetings between MPs and their constituents, as he warned ‘there could be a copycat-style attack’ following the killing of Sir David.
Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee, urged a ‘pause in face-to-face’ consultations between parliamentarians and members of the public until a safety review had been completed in the wake of Sir David’s death on Friday.
His proposal was shot down by defiant Conservatives including former Cabinet minister David Davis. Labour’s Harriet Harman called for an official review of MPs’ safety, while ex-Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott also rallied against ‘airport-style screening’ – but told the BBC she would support meeting constituents behind a screen to prevent possible stab attacks.
Miss Patel insisted MPs must keep meeting voters, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show it would be ‘unacceptable’ for the killing to ‘break the link between an elected representative and their democratic role, responsibility and duty to the people who elected them’.
However, the killing of Sir David at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea as he met with Southend West constituents has prompted the Government to look at ensuring every MP gets police on guard at their weekly surgeries – a move backed by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
Speaking to Channel 4, Mr Ellwood doubled-down on his proposal, warning: ‘Ultimately we have to recognise that there could be a copycat-style attack. The police have already made that clear. So yes, absolutely, let’s stand up to the terrorists, let’s make sure that our lifestyles and the way we go about is not altered, that they do not win. But we need to do that in a cognitive way to make sure that MPs, staff and indeed the general public are kept safe.’
The MP for Bournemouth East, who was hailed as a hero for his attempts to save the life of Pc Keith Palmer during the Westminster terror attack in 2017, also told the broadcaster that he had discussed the security implications of the withdrawal from Afghanistan for terrorism and extremism with Sir David last week as they visited Doha in Qatar.
‘Nobody should die in that way. Nobody’: Family of murdered MP Sir David Amess say ‘our hearts are shattered’ – but urge people to ‘show love to all’ and support causes he championed in his memory so ‘some good can come from this tragedy’
The devastated family of Conservative MP Sir David Amess today said they are ‘absolutely broken’ by his killing, adding in an emotional statement: ‘As a family, we are trying to understand why this awful thing has occurred. Nobody should die in that way.’
In a statement released through the Metropolitan Police, Sir David’s family said: ‘The family would like to thank everyone for the wonderful, wonderful tributes paid to David following his cruel and violent death. It truly has brought us so much comfort. The support shown by friends, constituents and the general public alike has been so overwhelming. As a family it has given us strength.
‘We have realised from tributes paid that there was far, far more to David than even we, those closest to him, knew. We are enormously proud of him. Our hearts are shattered. However, there was still so much David wanted to do – this we know from the events of the last few days. So, this is not the end of Sir David Amess MP. It is the next chapter and as a family we ask everyone to support the many charities he worked with. There are so many to mention, so find one close to your hearts and help.
‘David had recently joined a campaign to help raise funds for a memorial to Dame Vera Lynn. To him she epitomised the strength and courage of our nation. We would ask as many people as possible to support this and meet the target to complete the project.
‘Closer to home, David was working hard for Southend to gain city status. In his memory, please show your support for this campaign. Strong and courageous is an appropriate way to describe David. He was a patriot and a man of peace. So, we ask people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all. This is the only way forward. Set aside hatred and work towards togetherness.
‘Whatever one’s race, religious or political beliefs, be tolerant and try to understand. As a family, we are trying to understand why this awful thing has occurred. Nobody should die in that way. Nobody. Please let some good come from this tragedy. We are absolutely broken, but we will survive and carry on for the sake of a wonderful and inspiring man.
‘We ask at this time that the family’s privacy be respected so that we can grieve in private.’
Defiant MPs continued to hold constituency surgeries as normal on Saturday, while debate raged over whether Parliamentarians should be given police guards.
Mr Shelbrooke, Tory MP for Elmet and Rothwell, who held a surgery at a local supermarket yesterday, said: ‘We cannot let events like this diminish the deep relationship between an MP and their constituents.
‘This is a relationship I value deeply: I want my constituents, regardless of whether they voted for me or not, to be able to approach me in the street, in the pub, at the supermarket or at one of my surgeries.’
Mr Davis said suspending public meetings would be ‘a terrible reflection of what David stood for’. Mr Largan, Tory MP for High Peak, tweeted: ‘I’ll keep on doing my weekly surgery, all year round, whatever the weather! We all need to stand up for our democracy!’
And Dr Kieran Mullan, the Tory MP for Crewe and Nantwich, tweeted: ‘Surgery today, we must not let people force us to do things differently. David would not have wanted that.’
Meanwhile, the longest continuously serving female MP, Ms Harman, said she would be writing to the Prime Minister urging him to back a Speaker’s Conference to look into what needs to change to ensure parliamentarians are safe in their constituencies.
Speaking to the BBC, the veteran Labour politician said: ‘We cannot have the death of an MP being a price worth paying for our democracy.’
She added: ‘I don’t think anybody wants to go to a situation where the police are vetting individual constituents who come and see us, but I’m sure there is a safer way to go about our business.
‘Since Jo Cox’s tragic killing, we’ve had changes in our home security, we’ve had changes in security in Parliament, but we haven’t looked at the issue of how we go about that important business in our constituency, but do it in a safe way – and I think we must do that now.’
Conservative MP Kevin Foster, who represents Torbay, said it is ‘not practical’ to have airport-style security at MPs’ surgeries.
Defence minister James Heappey, the Conservative MP for Wells, echoed that sentiment, telling PA news agency: ‘Tweaks to security might be necessary but nothing can fundamentally change: those surgeries are foundations on which service as MP is delivered.’
Tory Harrow East MP Bob Blackman said he and his colleagues will now be ‘wary’ of what they do following Sir David’s death, but former universities minister Chris Skidmore – who represents Kingswood constituency – said it still felt ‘absolutely natural that I would continue to hold in-person events’.
That sentiment was mirrored on the Labour benches, with Hull East MP Karl Turner arguing against vetting who elected representatives see and that politicians had to accept there is a risk involved with their work.
‘I think you can do as much as you can possibly do but if a knife-wielding maniac bursts into your room, what can you do about that really?’ he told PA.
‘I think you’ve got to take the risk. I’m not pretending to be any kind of a hero, far from it, but I think it is a pretty bad deal if you can’t see your MP.’
Ms Abbott said she would support meeting constituents behind a screen to prevent possible stab attacks, but she too rallied against ‘airport-style screening’.
‘I would prefer going forward to meet constituents behind a screen, as we have now for Covid and so on – that might be quite complicated to arrange but at least you know someone’s not going to just lean over the desk and stab you, which could happen now,’ she told the BBC.
After the attack on Friday, police were said to be contacting all MPs to check on their security.
Writing in The Observer and the Mail on Sunday, Sir Lindsay said he was ‘working closely and at pace with the Home Office and the police’ to identify ways to improve MPs’ safety.
The attack came five-and-a-half years after Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a far-right extremist in her Batley and Spen constituency in West Yorkshire.
Speaking to the Andrew Marr Show this morning, the Home Secretary also said the Government is ‘looking at’ whether there needs to be more action to stop threats and abuse being posted anonymously online.
However, Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, a close friend of Sir David, lashed out at the police for ignoring threats.
‘I’ve had four or five incidents where I’ve had to report things to the police,’ he told Times Radio. ‘And quite often they literally don’t do anything or the onus is on me to give endless statements which lead nowhere.’
An ongoing investigation into Sir David’s death has been focusing on multiple areas including Camden, Croydon and another unspecified address in London
Boris Johnson, Sir Keir Starmer, Priti Patel and Sir Lyndsay Hoyle arrive to the scene of Sir David Amess’s killing in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex to pay tribute Saturday
Home Secretary Priti Patel silently pays her respects to veteran MP Sir David Amess in Essex on Saturday morning
People during a candlelight vigil at Belfairs Recreation Ground near to Belfairs Methodist Church in Eastwood Road North, Leigh-on-Sea
Revealed: How delays hit Prevent reviews
Delays in launching a review of a controversial counter-terror programme were under intense scrutiny last night, amid fears that they allowed Sir David Amess’s alleged killer to slip through the net.
The Government first promised scrutiny of the Home Office deradicalisation scheme, Prevent, in 2019, the year after a parliamentary committee highlighted shortcomings.
But the independent review did not formally get under way until earlier this year and it is not expected to report back to Home Secretary Priti Patel until later this year or early next. It is likely to recommend improvements to the way police and MI5 share information about suspects.
In August 2019, the Home Office appointed Lord Carlile, former independent reviewer of terrorism laws, to lead the Prevent review. But he was forced to stand down in December that year after a legal challenge by a human rights group because he had previously expressed support for Prevent.
Recruitment of another chairman did not begin for six months and a successor was not appointed until January this year.
Southend West MP Sir David was meeting constituents at a church in Leigh-on-Sea, when he was stabbed to death. Police continue to question a 25-year-old British man of Somalian descent last night and have been granted permission to detain him until Friday under the Terrorism Act.
Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme this morning, Ms Patel said many MPs would be ‘reflecting’ upon their own constituency interactions and safety this weekend.
But she insisted it was crucial that MPs continue to do their democratic duty by meeting voters.
‘I’ve been a member of parliament for just over 10 years and we are part of the fabric, the DNA of society, our democracy, freedom, the chance for people to engage with us,’ she said. ‘But what I would say is that a lot has changed.’
Ms Patel said the murder of Jo Cox was an ‘intensive period’ for MPs when it came to thinking about their own safety, adding: ‘We have all changed our ways of working because of changing concerns, threats in society.’
But she added: ‘This should never ever break that link between an elected representative and their democratic role, responsibility and duty to the people who elected them.’
Ms Patel said the Speaker ‘has already put in a range of measures post-Friday, as we have with policing, but within that there are other options that are being considered, such as when you hold your surgeries could you have officers or some kind of protection while you’re holding you surgery’.
‘Now it’s not for me to determine the mechanism for that right now but there are discussions under way right now looking at a whole spectrum. That’s only one example, and there are others as well that are actively under consideration right now,’ she said,
She said it is ‘not necessarily about new resources’ but said ‘we will do absolutely everything.. to safeguard our democracy and enable our elected representatives to carry on doing what they do, serving the public.’
Pushed on whether she will consider removing the right to anonymity on social media, Ms Patel said: ‘I want us to look at everything.
‘There is work taking place already. We have an Online Harms Bill that will come to Parliament, there is working taking place on it right now. I’ve done a lot of work on social media platforms, mainly around encryption and areas of that nature.
‘But we can’t carry on like this. I spend too much time with communities who have been under attack, basically who have had all sorts of postings online and it is a struggle to get those posts taken down. We want to make some big changes on that.’
Parliament bosses have not renewed their contract with Chubb who were brought in after the murder of Jo Cox five years ago to install additional security for MPs when they are not in their offices.
According to the Telegraph, MPs complained of slow service and poor security advice and the company will be replaced by ADT later this year, he firm used by the Home Office to install alarms for high-risk Cabinet ministers.
One MP told the Telegraph: ‘They have yet to do a single thing in my new house, despite getting on to them the day after I moved in.
‘It also took a year to do the most basic stuff at my office, like fitting a new front door.’
The newspaper reports that some MPs have been offered fixed panic alarms in their constituency offices and homes, while others have been given portable ‘lone worker devices’ that can alert police if they are in danger.
We must not confuse toxic discourse with this outrage: I believe the mistake we make in responding to Islamist terror is to react as if we can negate it through changes in our behaviour, writes STEPHEN POLLARD
By STEPHEN POLLARD for the DAILY MAIL
From the information that has so far been made public, the most important fact about the killing of Sir David Amess seems clear. It appears he was targeted by an Islamist terrorist.
Whether or not the suspect, named as a British man of Somali descent, Ali Harbi Ali, had links to radical Islamic groups or was a self-radicalised ‘lone wolf’ is yet to be established.
But the 25-year-old is thought to have been identified by the Government’s deradicalisation programme, Prevent, some years ago.
The potential link to Islamist terror, which the police were quick to reveal, is unambiguous. And it is vital to keep it at the front of our minds if we are to understand why Sir David was killed – and what we might do to prevent such terrorist outrages in the future.
From the information that has so far been made public, the most important fact about the killing of Sir David Amess seems clear. It appears he was targeted by an Islamist terrorist, writes Stephen Pollard
In the days since the news of his death broke on Friday, there has been an understandable outpouring of emotion, grief and plaintive cries of ‘Why?’ Muslim faith leaders and leaders of the Somali community in the UK have united to condemn the atrocity.
But the debate that has followed is confusing two separate issues.
Almost in its entirety, TV and radio and some press coverage has focused on the aggressive tone of politics in recent years, and of the poison that is spread on social media.
Politicians and commentators have lined up to argue that the heat must be taken out of political debate, that we need to restore civility and courtesy to how we conduct politics, and that we need to dial down the rancour.
In that context, the Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner’s recent description of Conservatives as ‘a bunch of scum’, and some Brexiteers’ labelling of Remainers as ‘traitors’, have both been criticised as typical examples of language that drives anger and leads to a climate in which MPs feel – and are – unsafe.
And with social media allowing online mobs to focus on whoever they target and giving an opportunity for anyone to post the most foul abuse directed at those with whom they disagree, the national temperature is dangerously high.
All of that is important and essential to deal with. It poses a great threat to democracy and society itself.
The Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner’s recent description of Conservatives as ‘a bunch of scum’, and some Brexiteers’ labelling of Remainers as ‘traitors’, have both been criticised as typical examples of language that drives anger and leads to a climate in which MPs feel – and are – unsafe
But that is not, I would argue, why Sir David Amess was killed. I believe Islamist terror is targeted at who we are – non-Muslims – with the desire to impose a caliphate (effectively a Muslim state), with sharia law as the governing text. We must recognise the distinct and specific nature of this form of extremism.
Discussion is of course needed over the tone of politics and social media. It is dangerous and toxic and we need action to address it. But that is a separate issue to what led to his death.
I believe, too, the mistake we make all too often in responding to Islamist terror is to react as if we can somehow negate it through changes in our behaviour.
That is why it is so important that we do not react to this latest outrage by framing it only as a consequence of the raised political temperature.
If we do that, we show that we have learned nothing.