Prosecutors said Thursday that a 25-year-old man accused of stabbing British lawmaker David Amess to death was an Islamic State supporter who plotted for two years to kill a politician.
Ali Harbi Ali, a man from London with Somali heritage, had “religious and ideological motivations” when he attacked Amess last week in the town of Leigh-on-Sea, prosecutors said. They alleged that Ali targeted Amess, a member of the Conservative party, because the lawmaker had voted for airstrikes on Syria, though he initially planned attacks on other MPs.
The slaying took place as Amess, who was 69, attended a routine meeting with his constituents. His killing shook a nation accustomed to having face-to-face contact with its leaders, heightened concerns about extremism and rattled British politicians, who say they face increasing levels of vitriol and abuse as they perform their jobs.
Ali was arrested at the scene of the killing in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London, last Friday. He was charged with murder and preparing acts of terrorism.
He appeared in court in central London wearing a grey tracksuit and thick-rimmed glasses, speaking only to confirm his name, age and address at the 13-minute hearing. He was not asked to enter a plea and was ordered detained until the next hearing.
At the hearing, prosecutor James Cable said Ali began planning to kill a lawmaker two years ago, and initially focused on two other politicians before choosing Amess.
Nick Price of the Crown Prosecution Service said the murder “has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations.”
Matt Jukes, the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, said “no other arrests have been made and at this time we are not seeking anybody else in relation to this incident.”
Jukes said detectives had analyzed computers, searched several London addresses, and reviewed CCTV footage as part of the investigation.
He confirmed that security arrangements for all of Britain’s 650 MPs were under review both at parliament and in their constituencies.
The death of Amess, who had served in Parliament for almost 40 years and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015, escalated concerns about security among Britain’s politicians, who pride themselves on being accessible to their constituents.
The slaying came five years after Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death by a far-right extremist. Cox was the first British lawmaker to be killed since a peace accord ended large-scale Northern Ireland violence almost 30 years earlier.
British politicians are protected by armed police when they are in Parliament but generally are not given such protection in their home districts.
Home Secretary Priti Patel told the House of Commons on Wednesday that intelligence officers had upgraded the threat level for politicians from “moderate” to “substantial,” though she said there was no “specific or imminent threat.”
A special session of the House of Commons on Monday resounded with appeals to force social media giants to do more to prevent the spread of online hate that has poisoned political discourse.
On Wednesday, a handful of protesters erected a mock gallows outside Parliament, accusing MPs of “treason” for imposing coronavirus lockdowns and vaccination programs.
Labour MP Peter Kyle tweeted a photograph of the noose and said he had been told by one protester: “This is what we do with traitors.”
“Out of the two of us, I’m the one whose life and routine must adapt, not his. Our politics really is broken,” he added.
Amess was a social conservative who opposed abortion, campaigned for animal rights and strongly supported Britain’s exit from the European Union. He was well-liked even by his political opponents for his civility, good humor and commitment to his constituents in the seaside constituency of Southend West, 40 miles (60 kilometers) east of London.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hoped Amess’ loved ones would “get the justice they deserve as fast as possible.”
“What we must not do is be intimidated by this appalling murder into changing the way we conduct our parliamentary business or the way we work in our constituencies,” he said. “Which I think is the last thing that David Amess would’ve wanted.”