British police say terrorism was the motive in the stabbing death of a member of Parliament who was ambushed at a meeting in a church on Friday.
A 25-year-old suspect is in custody in connection with the slaying of Sir David Ames, the second MP to be killed while doing their job in the last five years.
Metropolitan Police said they had uncovered “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism” and that a counterterrorism unit was now leading the investigation.
Amess was attacked in Leigh-on-Sea, around 40 miles east of London. He was holding a constituency surgery—a regular open event where residents can lobby their representative—at Belfairs Methodist Church when the suspect—described in multiple reports as a British national of Somali heritage—walked into the building and stabbed him.
In a statement, Essex Police wrote that they were called to a suspected stabbing shortly after midday: “We attended and found a man injured. He was treated by emergency services but, sadly, died at the scene. A 25-year-old man was quickly arrested after officers arrived at the scene on suspicion of murder and a knife was recovered. He is currently in custody.”
Amess is survived by his wife, Julia, and their four daughters and son. Amess was first elected to parliament in 1983 and he represented the Conservative Party, which is currently led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Johnson said in a statement: “Our hearts are full of shock and sadness today at the loss of Sir David Amess MP who was killed in his constituency surgery in a church after almost 40 years of continuous service to the people of Essex and the whole of the United Kingdom... We’ve lost today a fine public servant and a much loved friend and colleague.”
The murder brought back traumatizing memories of the assassination of Jo Cox in 2016 who, like Amess, was killed while carrying out one of the most basic requirements of a British MP. U.K. Lawmakers are expected to hold a few public meetings a month, usually in a church or a town hall, where local residents can share their problems and concerns.
However, it turns politicians into sitting ducks. Amess, like Cox and all other MPs, advertised the location and time of the meeting on his website. There is no security at the surgeries unless there is a specific threat—normally, MPs will be accompanied by one member of staff. There is nothing to stop people with violent intent from attending.
Cox’s widow, Brendan, said the connection between the murders of Amess and his late wife were obvious to see, writing: “My thoughts and love are with David’s family. They are all that matter now. This brings everything back. The pain, the loss, but also how much love the public gave us following the loss of Jo. I hope we can do the same for David now.”
In a book published last year, Amess lamented Cox’s assassination and its ramifications for British politics. He wrote: “She was approaching the library where her constituency surgery was to be held when she was attacked and killed in the most barbaric fashion imaginable.”
He added that he had “experienced nuisance from the odd member of the general public at my own property,” and wrote: “There can be no doubt that as a result of these heightened security concerns most members have modified or changed the way they interact with the general public.”
Now, following his death—the second assassination of a British politician in the space of five years—the colleagues he leaves behind will ask if the old way of doing things has to change for good to avoid a further tragedy.