The man arrested on suspicion of fatally stabbing a long-serving British lawmaker has been identified as Ali Harbi Ali, according to several British media outlets.
David Amess, 69, who represented Southend West in Essex for the ruling Conservative Party, was attacked Friday while meeting with constituents in a church building in his home district, about 40 miles east of London.
Authorities say they are treating the killing as terrorism, potentially motivated by Islamist extremism. Police did not reveal the man’s identity. But several media outlets in Britain named the 25-year-old suspect late Saturday night, describing him as a British national of possible Somali heritage.
Police said Saturday evening that a warrant of further detention was granted, meaning detectives have until Oct. 22 to question the suspect regarding ties to terrorism. The BBC said that several years ago Ali had been referred to Prevent, the government’s counter-extremism program, but that he was not known to the security services.
The police said that they searched three sites for possible evidence in the killing of Amess, who died after being stabbed multiple times.
The suspect was not on a terrorism watch list, authorities said. No group has come forward claiming responsibility for inspiring or directing the attack.
Early Saturday, the counterterrorism division of London’s Metropolitan Police force formally declared the incident an act of terrorism. “The early investigation has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism,” a police statement said, adding that police believe the man acted alone.
“We are not seeking anyone else in connection with the incident at this time,” police said.
Amess died at the scene.
Media reports say the suspect waited in line to enter the church building where Amess was meeting with constituents and then attacked. The suspect did not flee and was quickly arrested.
Fellow politicians decried the killing of Amess as horrific – and an assault on democracy.
The attack stirred memories of the 2016 killing of Labor Party lawmaker Jo Cox, 41, who died after being shot and stabbed by Thomas Alexander Mair, a white supremacist and extreme nationalist who supported neo-Nazi ideology. Mair was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes. Another Labor Party lawmaker, Stephen Timms, was stabbed in a 2010 attack but survived.
Jo Cox’s widower, Brendan Cox, tweeted after Friday’s attack: “There is no excuse, no justification. It is as cowardly as it gets.”
On social media, many wondered whether a more partisan Britain is more prone to this kind of violence. Other lawmakers have been physically attacked, and many have been screamed at and harassed while entering or exiting Westminster Palace.
The killing has thrown a spotlight on the political climate in Britain and how, for many politicians, threats of violence have become the norm. Between 2010 and 2016, nearly 700 crimes against British lawmakers were reported to the police. The vast majority was online abuse.
Jade Botterill, the former office manager for Labor lawmaker Yvette Cooper, tweeted that the office once received more than 100 death threats in a week. (In a normal week, they’d average about 50 death threats, she said.)
The Amess killing has also raised questions about whether more security is needed for politicians. The Palace of Westminster in London is guarded by armed officers and there are airport-style scanners at the entrance but there is no equivalent security for when politicians meet, on a weekly basis, with constituents.
After the killing of Cox in 2016, lawmakers were offered panic buttons, alarms and extra lighting at their homes and constituency offices. But lawmakers often meet with constituents in public spaces like the one where Amess was killed.
Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative lawmaker who in 2017 tried to save a police officer who was stabbed during an attack at Westminster, said that it was time to pause face-to-face meetings until a security review was concluded.
British lawmakers meet regularly with their constituents in appointments to discuss public matters and personal needs and complaints. Amess had posted online Tuesday that he was due to hold his next meeting with local residents Friday at the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea.
But many other lawmakers said that weekly in-person meetings shouldn’t stop, that they are important opportunities for dialogue. Some said conceded that, in the wake of the killing, they were nervous about their meetings, but wanted to do them anyway.
“We can’t afford for democracy to be smashed,” said House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute Saturday to Amess in the politician’s home constituency in Leigh-on-Sea. Johnson laid flowers outside where Amess was fatally stabbed. He later tweeted a picture of a card he wrote to “a much loved colleague and friend.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said Amess was “a man of the people” who died doing the job he loved.
John Lamb, a local councilor and friend of Amess’s, said the death has hit the community hard. Speaking to The Washington Post from outside the cordon, where floral tributes were amassed, he said that “it will be very difficult to get over this.”
He described his late friend as a “a genuine person who was trying to help the community all round,” including holding a tea each year for centenarians.