Sir David Amess killer was on terror alert list and had extremist material on phone

THE killer of MP Sir David Amess was previously referred to a ­Government anti-terror scheme.

Cops discovered Islamist material on his phone after the stabbing in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Witnesses said he appeared “dead behind the eyes”.

The man being held was last night named as Ali Harbi Ali.

The killer of MP Sir David Amess travelled 50 miles by train to murder him.

Counter-terror cops believe he boarded a service in London to carry out the lone wolf attack.

He is believed to have waived his right to silence on arrest and is said to have admitted fatally stabbing dad-of-five Sir David 17 times at his constituency surgery at a church hall in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.

The suspect had not been on MI5’s “subject of interest” list. But he had been referred to the early stages of the Government Prevent anti-terror scheme.

Cops and security services are examining the theory he was ­radicalised online during lockdown. And they believe the suspect may have been inspired by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda offshoot operating in Somalia and Kenya.

He had Islamist material on his phone and may have targeted Tory Sir David, 69, because he was a symbol of the British Government. The attack was also linked to a jihadist ideology because of statements the suspect reportedly made to arresting officers.

Yesterday he was being held at a police station in London. Officers can quiz him until October 22. Sources said he lives in North London but had family ties to Southend, close to Leigh-on-Sea. Two addresses in the capital were being searched.

'Savage attack'

Cops are said to be trying to establish a motive so they can charge him under the Terrorism Act — rather than just murder — leading to the prospect of a whole life sentence if convicted.

Late last night the man being held by police was named as Ali Harbi Ali, 25. His dad is believed to be a senior civil servant in the Somali government. He is thought to have been born in the UK after his family fled the war-torn East African nation in the 1990s.

An emergency worker called to Friday’s murder scene told how the killer was “dead behind the eyes”. She said: “What I saw was horrific. We knew immediately that David was dead. There was no way anyone was surviving that. It was such a savage attack. People were breaking down in tears because there was nothing anyone could do for him.

“The attacker was already in handcuffs and was sitting on the floor. He was completely dead behind the eyes, staring blankly. And he didn’t say anything.”

A separate witness said the attacker had not made a booking to see Sir David but was ushered in by his assistant after waiting in a side room. The source added: “It was ad-hoc and David agreed to see him. That’s the sort of man he was. He would take bookings from people who just turned up. This person was in the room with his assistant and she saw everything.

“His calmness sitting by the body was unnerving.”

The attacker was already in handcuffs and was sitting on the floor. He was completely dead behind the eyes, staring blankly. And he didn’t say anything.

Tory councillor Dan Nelson said: “The attacker had been waiting 40 minutes and was not pre-booked.”

It is understood the man was checked in by Sir David’s assistant Julie Cushion who was too upset to comment at her home in the town.

Another assistant Rebecca Hayton, 23, is also said to have witnessed the horror. Her dad Barry said: “She’s very upset and can’t speak. She’s been interviewed by the police.”

The Sunday Times reported that just three minutes before the 12.05pm stabbing Sir David had ended a Zoom meeting with PR man Richard Hillgrove. They had been discussing the Children’s Parliament for which Mr Hillgrove’s daughter Lola, 11, had been matched with the MP.

Mr Hillgrove saw reports of the murder on TV and said: “I was honoured to have known him. He was such an inspiration.

"His engagement was incredible. He made sense of a crazy world.”

'Absolutely devastated'

Leigh Tory councillor John Lamb said he had spoken to Sir David’s widow Julia, adding: “She and the rest of the family, especially the daughters, are as you can imagine absolutely devastated. David just went out to do his job. The job he does here once a month and he didn’t come home.”

Yesterday police spent 30 minutes briefing PM Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Priti Patel, Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, local Tory MP James Duddridge and Essex police commissioner Roger Hirst near to Belfairs methodist church hall where the murder took place.

The rival politicians laid flowers and cards underneath an oak outside the church. Labour and the Lib Dems announced they will not stand ­candidates in the by-election.

Sir David had been due to walk one of his four daughters down the aisle at her wedding in December. He had done the same honour at 31-year-old daughter Alexandra’s wedding in August. His other children are Katie, a 36-year-old actress, Sarah, 33, Florence, 30, and son David Jnr, 37.

Retired headteacher David ­Gibbins fears his friend may have been targeted for his religion. He said: “It is well known locally that he was a Christian, who went to a Catholic church, and people are wondering whether that is the motive.”

It also emerged that colleagues and pals had warned Sir David he was being seen as a “soft target” after activists — including climate change protesters — had demonstrated outside his constituency office in recent months.

It is well-known locally that he was a Christian, who went to a Catholic church, and people are wondering whether that is the motive.

Last night tearful locals laid ­dozens of wreaths with cards, teddy bears and photos. Sir David was an animal rights champion and proud backer of the Westminster Dog of the Year competition, which he contested with his French bulldogs.

Retired school caretaker David Brockwell, 73, said he would fondly remember Sir David popping into the Royal British Legion club in nearby Westcliff-on-Sea.

He added: “He was a lovely man, very down to earth with absolutely no airs and graces. He would come in the club and he liked a pint — and he always got his round in as well.”

Failures of Govt ‘stop terror’ net

Ben Griffiths

A STRING of fanatics referred to the Government’s Prevent deradicalisation programme have slipped through the net.

Reading attacker Khairi Saadallah, 25, was flagged to Prevent officials but was “not found to have a fixed ideology”. He killed three men in June 2020.

Tube bomber Ahmed Hassan, 18, was referred to the Channel mentoring scheme, part of Prevent. But at the time of the attack in 2017, it was considering closing his case.

And Haroon Syed, 19, who plotted “mass murder” with a nail bomb, slipped through the net.

Official figures show the names of 6,287 suspected terrorists were passed to security services last year. Of those, 697 went on to receive Prevent support.

Fears of an Iran link toTory killing

Ryan Sabey

SIR David Amess was at an Iranian opposition rally which a Tehran diplomat plotted to bomb — amid speculation of an Iran link to the MP’s murder.

He joined five other British MPs at the event outside Paris in 2018, where dissident Maryam Rajavi was a key target.

Diplomat Assadollah Assadi, 49, was jailed for 20 years after Belgian prosecutors said the bomb plot could have caused a “bloodbath”.

Sir David was hailed as a champion by the Iranian opposition — and had called for Iran’s president to be banned from the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

The Catholic MP may also have been targeted for his religious beliefs, one senior source added.

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