The Sunday Telegraph

MP murder suspect was flagged to counter-extremism officials

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was not known to MI5 despite his referral to the Prevent programme

- By Edward Malnick, Izzy Lyons, Robert Mendick and Patrick Sawer

THE terror suspect being investigat­ed for the fatal stabbing of Sir David Amess had been referred to the Government’s counter-extremism programme.

Details have begun to emerge about the 25-year-old – named last night as Ali Harbi Ali – whom police believe may have been motivated by Islamist extremism.

He is understood to have been referred to Prevent several years ago, but he was not known to MI5, according to security sources. His father was reportedly a former civil servant in the Somalian government.

Police last night declared detectives had been granted a warrant of further detention at Westminste­r Magistrate­s’ Court, allowing them to keep the suspect in custody until Friday Oct 22.

The disclosure came after Boris Johnson made a rare joint appearance with Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, at the scene of the attack, where the Prime Minister left flowers and a handwritte­n note describing Sir David as “a fine parliament­arian and a muchloved colleague and friend”.

Yesterday it emerged that Sir David, a 69-year-old father of five, had received an “upsetting” threat in the days leading up to the fatal attack. The threat to the veteran MP was made in the past few days and reported to police.

It is understood that Essex Police received a report of the threat but are not connecting it with Friday’s attack. At least one individual connected to Sir David was also understood to have been the subject of a recent threat.

Despite the threat, Sir David chose to go ahead with his public appointmen­ts, including the advice surgery.

Yesterday, officers from the Metropolit­an Police’s counter-terrorism team, which is leading the investigat­ion into Sir David’s death, were searching three addresses in London, two of which were believed to be in the east of the capital.

The suspect, a UK national of Somali origin, is thought to have acted alone and travelled by train from his north London home to Essex to carry out the attack.

It is understood the security services are concerned, however, that the incident came just two days after an Islamist attack in Norway and that the Taliban takeover of Afghanista­n could see a resurgence of lone-wolf attacks.

Last month Dame Cressida Dick, the Met police commission­er, warned that the Covid-19 pandemic had left people more vulnerable to being radicalise­d by extremists because it has stoked distrust in authority. Dame Cressida said terrorists had exploited the social isolation caused by lockdown to peddle dangerous conspiracy theories.

William Shawcross, the former chairman of the Charity Commission, has been carrying out a review of Prevent since January. Last night Richard Walton, a former Metropolit­an Police counter terrorism chief, insisted that the Government should “invest more” in Prevent to ensure that it can be used to “detect the signs and symptoms of radicalise­d individual­s”.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary and Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, who visited Sir David’s constituen­cy alongside Mr Johnson and Sir Keir, insisted that the tradition of faceto-face meetings with constituen­ts must continue, as many MPs refused to cancel routine advice surgeries yesterday .

Uniformed police stood guard outside several surgeries, and security arrangemen­ts for all MPs are now under review. Harriet Harman, the senior Labour MP, called for a “Speaker’s conference” of party representa­tives to come together to discuss the issue. The killing of Sir David during his advice surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, came five years after the murder of Jo Cox, the Labour MP, in a daylight attack outside her West Yorkshire surgery. Sir Lindsay wrote to all MPs urging them to take advantage of security measures offered by Parliament to help protect themselves and their staff at home and at constituen­cy offices, amid concerns that many had become complacent about security. As a sign of respect, Labour and Liberal Democrat sources indicated they would not contest a byelection in Sir David’s seat.

Mr Johnson and Sir Keir, dressed in black, laid flowers outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea where Sir David was killed on Friday.

Mr Johnson said “all our hearts are full of shock and sadness” at the killing of Sir David, whom he said was “one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics”. Mr Johnson added: “We’ve lost today a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague. I think everybody was deeply shocked and heart-stricken and our thoughts are very much with his family, with his wife and his children.”

Ms Patel also praised her “dear and loyal friend” as she robustly defended the need for MPs to have physical contact with their constituen­ts.

“We cannot be cowed by any individual or any motivation, people with motives to stop us from functionin­g to

serve our elected democracy,” she said. “We will continue to absolutely stand by the principles that we are elected to serve our constituen­ts in the open way in which we have been doing so, but also recognisin­g there are safety and protection measures that we have to undertake too.”

John Lamb, the former Mayor of Leigh-on-Sea and a close colleague of the murdered MP, said Sir David had received an “upsetting” threat in the past few days.

He told The Telegraph: “The police were alerted about some sort of threat made against Sir David.” Mr Lamb, chairman of Southend Conservati­ve Associatio­n, said Sir David’s family are in “disbelief ” at the attack.

“I’ve spoken to his wife Julia to see how she is and as you can imagine she is very upset,” Cllr Lamb said. “He was a family man. It’s just tremendous­ly sad.

“They can’t believe that Sir David has gone. His wife can’t believe that her husband has gone and that it happened at a place where he loved to be. He will never go home again. That’s the disbelief. It’s something he’s always done and always tried to help people.”

On Friday night, Scotland Yard formally declared the incident as terrorism after a 25-year-old man was arrested at the scene. The force said early investigat­ions suggest “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”.

The assessment was made because of statements the suspect allegedly made after police detained him, according to reports.

Last night, local Muslim community leaders in Southend condemned the fatal stabbing as an “indefensib­le atrocity,” adding that the father-of-five was an “upstanding friend to our Muslim community” and attended key events, including weddings, mosque openings and the launch of the town’s first Muslim Scout group.

In a statement on behalf of “all Southend mosques”, faith leaders said their thoughts and prayers were with Sir David’s family, friends and colleagues.

“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 said.

“This act was committed in the name of blind hatred, and we look forward to the perpetrato­r being brought to justice.

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Sir Keir Starmer, Priti Patel and Sir Lindsay Hoyle left tributes to Sir David Amess in Leigh-onSea yesterday
Boris Johnson, Sir Keir Starmer, Priti Patel and Sir Lindsay Hoyle left tributes to Sir David Amess in Leigh-onSea yesterday
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