British police on Friday night declared the killing of MP David Amess earlier in the day a terrorist incident.
“Senior National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism Policing, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon formally declared the incident as terrorism,” police said in a statement.
“The early investigation has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.”
The Times reported that the suspected killer was a Muslim man aged 25, believed to be of Somali descent. Multiple UK media outlets reported that the man is believed to be a British national.
Police said officers were “currently carrying out searches at two addresses in the London area and these are ongoing.” But “it is believed that [the suspect] acted alone, and we are not seeking anyone else in connection with the incident at this time.”
The long-serving member of Parliament was stabbed to death Friday during a meeting with constituents at a church in England, an attack that united Britain’s fractious politicians in shock and sorrow. He was 69 and a married father of five.
Amess was attacked during a regular meeting with constituents at a Methodist church in a residential section of the seaside town about 40 miles (62 kilometers) east of London. Paramedics tried without success to save him.
John Lamb, a local Conservative councilor, said Amess was holding routine meetings with constituents when attacked: “I’m told that … there were people waiting to see him, and one of them literally got a knife out and just began stabbing him.”
The assailant reportedly made no attempt to leave the scene, and waited for the police to arrive and arrest him.
The slaying came five years after another MP, Jo Cox, was murdered by a far-right extremist in her small-town constituency, and it renewed concern about the risks politicians run as they go about their work representing voters. British politicians generally are not given police protection when they meet with their constituents.
Flags were lowered to half-mast in Westminster as tributes poured in from across the political spectrum for Amess.
In a book last year called “Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster,” Amess noted that Cox’s death had prompted new security guidance to lawmakers which threatened to limit their access to constituents.
“This sort of thing just was not supposed to happen in the UK,” he wrote about Cox’s killing. “These increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Amess was “a much-loved friend and colleague” and “a fine public servant.”
“The reason I think people are so shocked and saddened is above all he was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics.”
Dozens of local community members honored their slain elected representative in an impromptu mass held at another Leigh-on-Sea church near the crime scene on Friday evening.
“He died doing the thing he loved — meeting his constituents,” said Jeff Woolnough, a priest who led the liturgy.
All Britain’s living former prime ministers also paid tribute to Amess, including Theresa May, who called it “a tragic day for our democracy.”
Prince William and his wife Kate said the couple were “shocked and saddened” and noted Amess had “dedicated 40 years of his life to serving his community.”
Condolences also came from around the world, including from the United States, Canada and Spain.
Britain’s House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said Amess had “built a reputation for kindness and generosity” during his long parliamentary career.
“In the coming days we will need to discuss and examine MPs’ security and any measures to be taken, but for now, our thoughts and prayers are with David’s family, friends and colleagues,” Hoyle added.
Interior minister Priti Patel’s spokesman said she had chaired a meeting of police, security and intelligence agencies and “asked all police forces to review security arrangements for MPs with immediate effect.”
Amess had been a member of Parliament for Southend West, which includes Leigh-on-Sea, since 1997, and had been a lawmaker since 1983, making him one of the longest-serving politicians in the House of Commons.
A social conservative on the right of his party, he was a well-liked figure with a reputation for working hard for his constituents and campaigning ceaselessly to have Southend declared a city. He was the Honorary Secretary of the Conservative Friends of Israel from 1998, and was regarded as a longtime friend of the UK Jewish community.
He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015 for his service, becoming Sir David.