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The terror suspect being investigated for the fatal stabbing of Sir David Amess had previously been referred to the Government’s counter-extremism programme.
The 25-year-old, named on Saturday night as Ali Harbi Ali, whom police believe may have been motivated by Islamist extremism, is understood to have been referred to Prevent several years ago – although he was not known to MI5, according to security sources.
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 much-moved colleague and friend”.
It emerged on Saturday that Sir David, a 69-year-old father of five, had received an “upsetting” threat in the days leading up to the fatal attack on him during a routine constituency surgery.
The threat to the veteran MP was made in the past few days and was 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.
On Saturday, officers from the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism team, which is leading the investigation into his death, were searching two addresses in London – believed to be in the east of the capital. The suspect, a British national of Somali origin, who was in custody in Essex, was believed to have acted alone.
It is understood that the security services are concerned that the incident came just two days after an Islamist attack in Norway and that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan could lead to 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. Terrorists had exploited the social isolation caused by lockdown to peddle dangerous conspiracy theories, she said.
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 could 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 face-to-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 by-election 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 described as “one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics”.
Praising the MP, Mr Johnson added: “We’ve lost 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 face-to-face 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.”
MP’s family ‘in disbelief’
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 were 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,” Mr 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 he loved being. 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 suggested “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.
Muslim leaders condemn killing
Muslim community leaders in Southend on Saturday night 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.”
It also emerged that Parliament has hired a new security firm to protect MPs in their homes and constituency offices.
Commons bosses have not renewed the contract of Chubb, a security firm hired in the wake of Jo Cox’s murder to install additional security for MPs when they are not in Parliament. Instead, the contract - which will start in December - has been handed to ADT, the firm used by the Home Office to install alarms for high-risk Cabinet ministers.
However, a Commons source said the criticism was “unfair to Chubb”, insisting that many more parliamentarians were now using security measures than before the firm was brought in. “We now have huge numbers of MPs taking measures because we brought in a national contractor,” the source said.