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The father of the alleged jihadist being held on suspicion of murdering Sir David Amess had himself received death threats from Islamist terrorists, The Telegraph can reveal.
Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was continuing to be questioned on Sunday night in connection with the frenzied knife attack on the Tory MP, which is being treated as an alleged terrorist incident.
But his own father, Harbi Ali Kullane, a former director of communications for the prime minister’s office in Somalia’s Western-backed government, had previously been targeted by Islamist radicals.
Somali government sources said that during his time as an official in the country’s administration, Mr Kullane received numerous death threats from al-Shabaab, the terror movement, which still controls parts of the country.
Mr Kullane, who moved to the UK from Mogadishu in the Nineties, is understood to have been targeted by the jihadists because of the hard line he took against terrorism in east Africa.
“He was quite involved in countering al-Shabaab’s message in his role as comms director, and he received death threats from them for doing so, which is common for anyone involved in a high-profile position in the government,” one source told The Telegraph.
“He himself despises terrorists, so it would be hard to imagine how his son has become radicalised as a result.”
Mr Kullane, who now lives in the Bounds Green area of north London, was said to be “devastated” at the news that his son had been arrested in connection with the fatal attack on Sir David.
Counter-terrorism detectives are understood to have spoken to Mr Kullane at length and have also been examining his mobile phone in an effort to understand his son’s movements and behaviour prior to the attack.
Ali Harbi Ali was born in 1996 in Southwark, south London, after his parents left war-torn Somalia and moved to the UK. The eldest of four children, he grew up in Croydon and was educated at a local Church of England primary school.
Family were ‘people just like us’
Neighbours in the quiet street where his mother and siblings still live described the family as ordinary and not particularly religious.
The parents separated when Mr Ali was still quite young and his father then began to split his time between London and east Africa, where he is thought to have homes in Mogadishu and Nairobi in Kenya.
One neighbour in Croydon said: “The dad was here when we moved in but we haven’t seen him for a long time.”
The mother, who locals described as a housewife, was said to be quiet and very respectable and wore a hijab only occasionally.
Another neighbour expressed their shock at the news that Ali Harbi Ali had been arrested in connection with the murder. “They were not extremists at all. They were not that sort of people. I would say they were just like us.”
But while still at school, Ali Harbi Ali was referred to the Government’s counter-extremism programme, Prevent, after concerns were raised about his increasingly radical behaviour. However, he did not remain in the programme for long and the issues were never thought serious enough to be flagged to MI5.
After leaving school, locals claimed he had got a job in the NHS, but it was not clear whether it was a clinical, administrative or support role.
Despite moving away from the Croydon area, Mr Ali was a regular visitor to the family home, but according to locals had not shown any obvious signs of radicalisation. One said: “He dressed normally, just jeans and normal clothes.”
During his late teens or early 20s, Mr Ali is thought to have moved in with his father and aunt in north London.
His father would regularly travel back to east Africa, especially during the British winter, but it is not clear whether Mr Ali went with him on these trips.
At the start of the pandemic, neighbours claim the family suffered a bereavement due to Covid, which hit them hard.
Police searching property in north London
Most recently, Mr Ali had been living in a top floor flat in the Kentish Town area of north London, close to where Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, lives with his family.
The property is understood to be rented from the local authority and the main tenant is thought to be a female relative of Mr Ali. Police have spent the weekend searching the premises and on Sunday a blue tent remained in the front garden of the three-storey property.
The counter terror-investigation has continued to move at pace, but detectives so far believe Mr Ali was acting alone. However, specialists will be scouring his devices and media accounts in an attempt to establish any potential links with outside influences or other groups.
Another focus of the investigation will be to explore whether there is any evidence that he may have been radicalised online during lockdown.