Ali Harbi Ali, 25, a British citizen and the son of a former Somali government official, was arrested at the crime scene; was not previously known to the British security forces.
Local reports said the suspect is a 25-year-old British citizen with Somali heritage, who is not thought to have been previously known to the security services.
However, Ali had been referred to Prevent, the UK’s counter-terrorist scheme for those thought at risk of radicalization a few years ago, the BBC reported. Ali is believed not have spent long on the program, which is voluntary in nature, and was never formally a “subject of interest” to MI5, the domestic security agency, said the BBC.
Police and security services believe the attacker acted alone and was “self-radicalized,” The Sunday Times reported, while he may have been inspired by Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists in Somalia.
Ali’s father Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, confirmed to The Sunday Times that his son was in custody, adding: “I’m feeling very traumatized.”
Police said late Saturday that detectives had until Friday, October 22, to question the suspect after he was detained under the Terrorism Act, which allowed them to extend his detention. Police said they have been carrying out searches at three addresses in the London area in a “fast-paced investigation.”
The Sun tabloid reported that the attacker stabbed Amess multiple times in the presence of two women staff, before sitting down and waiting for police to arrive.
The Daily Mail newspaper reported that he had booked an appointment a week ahead.
British police on Friday night declared the killing of Amess earlier in the day was a “terrorist incident” with a potential link to Islamist extremism.
The Guardian said this assessment was made “because of developments in the investigation after the suspect was arrested,” including statements he made.
It also said counter-terrorism detectives were investigating whether there was a specific reason Amess was targeted.
The long-serving member of Parliament was stabbed to death Friday during a meeting with constituents at a church in England, an attack that united Britain’s fractious politicians in shock and sorrow. He was 69 and a married father of five.
Police did not identify the suspect, who was arrested at the scene and held on suspicion of murder. Police said they believed he acted alone, and were not seeking anyone else in connection with the killing, though investigations continue.
Amess was a longtime member of Conservative Friends of Israel. He campaigned successfully for a statue in London for Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust, and enjoyed warm ties to the British Jewish community. He was also a trenchant critic of the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran.
“He always stood with the Jewish community and was a true friend of Israel. May his memory be for a blessing,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Friday.
The slaying came five years after another MP, Jo Cox, was murdered by a far-right extremist in her small-town constituency, and it renewed concern about the risks politicians run as they go about their work representing voters. British politicians generally are not given police protection when they meet with their constituents.
Tributes poured in for Amess from across the political spectrum, as well as from the community he had served for decades. Residents paid tribute to him at a vigil at a church in Leigh-on-Sea.
“He carried that great East London spirit of having no fear and being able to talk to people and the level they’re at,” the Rev. Jeffrey Woolnaugh said at the vigil, attended by about 80 people. “Not all politicians, I would say, are good at that.”
Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he and his Cabinet were “deeply shocked and heart-stricken.”
“David was a man who believed passionately in this country and in its future, and we’ve lost today a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague,” Johnson said.
The prime minister would not say whether the attack meant politicians needed tighter security, saying, “We must really leave the police to get on with their investigation.”
Amess had been a member of Parliament for Southend West, which includes Leigh-on-Sea, since 1997, and had been a lawmaker since 1983, making him one of the longest-serving politicians in the House of Commons.
A social conservative on the right of his party, he was a well-liked figure with a reputation for working hard for his constituents and campaigning ceaselessly to have Southend declared a city.
Amess, who leaves a wife and five children, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015 for his service, becoming Sir David.
Flags at Parliament were lowered to half-staff amid a profusion of questions about lawmakers’ security.
“This is an incident that will send shockwaves across the parliamentary community and the whole country,” House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said. “In the coming days we will need to discuss and examine MPs’ security and any measures to be taken, but for now, our thoughts and prayers are with David’s family, friends and colleagues.”
On Saturday evening, hundreds of mourners attended a candle-lit vigil at a sports field near the scene of the crime, holding a minute’s silence in the MP’s memory.
Leaders of local mosques released a statement condemning the murder and mourning Amess as a friend to the Muslim community, according to the Guardian.
“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. This act was committed in the name of blind hatred, and we look forward to the perpetrator being brought to justice,” the statement said.