Police have identified the suspect in the brutal murder of Conservative British MP Sir. David Amess as a 25-year-old “self-radicalized” man, Ali Harbi Ali, the son of a former prime ministerial adviser in Somalia.
“I’m feeling very traumatized. It’s not something that I expected or even dreamt of,” the suspect’s father, Harbi Ali Kullane, said at his sister’s home in north London, The U.K. Times reported, adding that officers believe the suspect was a lone operative and known to counterterrorism police.
Anti-terrorist police from Scotland Yard had visited the suspect, who was likely radicalized online during lockdown, and referred him to “Prevent,” the government’s deradicalization program, the newspaper said, citing anonymous sources.
The program is for those who have displayed potentially disturbing behavior, such as writing inflammatory posts on social media. The suspect, however, was not being monitored by British intelligence, which is otherwise keeping an eye on more than 3,000 people who could potentially plan a terror attack.
Security services in the U.K. fear that COVID-19-related restrictions might have contributed to many vulnerable people being radicalized online as they remained within their homes.
After stabbing Amess 17 times, the suspect sat down next to his body, waiting for the police to arrive, The Telegraph reported.
Detained under the U.K.’s terrorism laws, the suspect will remain in police custody until Friday.
Amess, who was married with five children and was known for his socially conservative viewpoints and pro-life stance against abortion, attended a public meeting for his "constituency surgery" at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea when the attack occurred.
In the U.K., constituency surgeries are face-to-face meetings that officeholders have with their constituents.
The suspect supposedly booked a slot a week in advance after the lawmaker announced the event on Twitter and on his website.
Southend’s Muslim community has condemned the murder as an “indefensible atrocity.”
The Essex Jamme Masjid (mosque) said in a statement that “all Southend mosques” are praying for the victim's family.
“Sir David’s murder was an indefensible atrocity, committed on the grounds of a place of worship and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” the statement read. “This act was committed in the name of blind hatred, and we look forward to the perpetrator being brought to justice.”
Local Muslim faith leaders remembered Amess as “upstanding friend to our Muslim community.”
John Lamb, chairman of the Southend Conservative Association, was quoted as saying that Amess' family had recently celebrated the wedding of one of his daughters, Alexandra, and were preparing for the wedding of another.
“He was a family man, it’s just tremendously sad. They can’t believe that Sir. David’s gone, the wife can’t believe that her husband has gone and that it happened at a place he loved being. He will never go home again. That’s the disbelief.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols said after Amess' murder that he was "shocked and saddened," Crux Now reported.
"This death throws a sharp light onto the fact that our Members of Parliament are servants of the people, available to people in their need, especially in their constituencies," he said. "This horrific attack, as David was undertaking his constituency surgery, is an attack on our democratic process and traditions."
The cardinal added that the lawmaker "carried out his vocation as a Catholic in public life with generosity and integrity," and pointed out that he was "respected by all political parties across the House."
Archbishop Justin Welby also issued a statement, saying he was "truly devastated."