Police seek motive for assassination of UK lawmaker

LONDON – Police sought answers on Sunday as to what might have motivated a 25-year-old Briton of Somali descent, the suspect of brutal a...


LONDON – Police sought answers on Sunday as to what might have motivated a 25-year-old Briton of Somali descent, the suspect of brutal assassination of a member of the Conservative Party during a meeting with his constituents that shook the British political establishment.

Scotland Yard has yet to publicly name the suspect, although UK news agencies, including the BBC, identified him as Ali Harbi Ali. Mr. Ali’s father, Harbi Ali Kullane, told the London Times that her son was in police custody and described himself as “very traumatized” by the charges.

Referring to the accusations, Mr Kullane, who was once an adviser to the former Somali prime minister, said in an interview with The Times: “This is not something I expected or even dreamed of.

The BBC reported that several years ago Mr Ali was referred to a government program known as Prevent, which aims to prevent people from being drawn to extremist ideas on social media. But his name is not on any terrorism watch list, according to the broadcaster.

Metropolitan police said on Saturday they had been granted a warrant under the Terrorism Act to keep the suspect in custody for an additional six days in connection with the murder of lawmaker David Amess on Friday in Leigh-on-Sea, England.

Police guarded a red brick row house on a tree-lined street in north London on Sunday where the suspect is believed to be living with his family. It was one of three addresses in London that was wanted by the police.

A neighbor next door, Tilly Gerrard, said three young men and a woman lived in the second floor apartment. She described them as a neighborhood presence in a community where most residents identify with each other and which recently hosted a street party.

Counterterrorism experts said Friday’s attack differed from Friday’s in that, according to reports, the assailant did not harm anyone else in the room, waited for police to arrive and l ‘stopped, and made no attempt to confront the police.

“It is unlike anything we have seen before,” said David Videcette, a former counterterrorism detective at Scotland Yard.

Under the Prevent program, teachers, health workers and others can inform the police about potentially radicalized individuals, and the authorities then decide whether or not to intervene. The program is voluntary and does not give rise to a legal file.

Political leaders expressed outrage at the attack, but insisted that it should not endanger a tradition of accessibility and face-to-face contact with members of parliament that is deeply rooted in the British political system.

“It’s an attack on democracy,” Gordon Brown, a former prime minister, said on Sunday in an interview on Sky News, “so the answer cannot be less democracy.”

Yet the murder, at noon and in public view, has reignited questions about the safety of MPs, who regularly make themselves available to voters at monthly meetings announced in advance and can become tense when voters come with lists of grievances.

Two other lawmakers have been attacked at such meetings in just over a decade. One, Jo Cox, Labor MP, died after being stabbed and shot by a right-wing extremist a few days before the Brexit referendum in 2016. The other, Stephen Timms, also a Labor MP, was seriously injured after being stabbed in the abdomen by an Islamist extremist in 2010.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said the government would review security policies for lawmakers, especially with regard to constituent meetings, known as surgeries. But she warned that these measures should not prevent voters from having direct access to their elected representatives.

“We are here to serve – we are here to be accessible to the British public,” Ms Patel said in an interview with the BBC.

Members of the public are generally encouraged to register in advance to attend surgeries, and the reports said the suspect had done so before Friday’s meeting, which was held at a Methodist church in Leigh-on-Sea.

In an interview with Sky News, Ms Patel said the government would also consider tightening social media laws to reduce abusive behavior, including removing the right of people to post content anonymously.

In the neighborhood where the suspect is said to be living, residents expressed bemusement as to why someone would target a lawmaker in a town 40 miles away. A man passing down the street said his younger brother attended elementary school with the suspect and was shocked to hear the news.

The motive for targeting Mr. Amess, who was 69, was not clear. A soft-spoken and highly regarded MP in the House of Commons, he was known for his unwavering support for Brexit and his advocacy for animal rights.

A Catholic and social conservative, Mr. Amess was also a staunch supporter of Israel and an Iranian opposition group, Mujahedeen Khalq, or MEK, which campaigns for the overthrow of the Iranian government.

On Sunday evening, Mr Amess’ family said in a statement: “We are trying to understand why this horrible thing happened. No one should die this way. Anybody.”

“We are absolutely broken,” he continued, “but we will survive and continue for the sake of a wonderful and inspiring man.”

In the tight-knit Somali community of London, reports of the attack sparked shock and unease, with some people expressing concern over a backlash. Although many Somali immigrants were displaced in the 1990s by the country’s civil war, the roots of the community in Britain go back several generations.

“These are a lot of people who were born here and raised here,” said Kahiye Alim, the director of the Council of Somali Organizations, an umbrella group.

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