UK MPs to pay tribute to slain colleague in parliament

London (AFP) –

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British lawmakers will on Monday pay tributes in parliament to their fallen colleague David Amess, as counter-terrorism police probed whether a suspect arrested was motivated by Islamist extremism.

Veteran Conservative MP Amess, who was 69, was stabbed to death on Friday as he met voters at a church in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London, in the second such attack on a UK lawmaker in just over five years.

Police are holding a 25-year-old man under the Terrorism Act, which allowed officers over the weekend to extend his detention for questioning until Friday. He has not been charged.

Parliament, which reconvenes after a three-week break, will hold a special afternoon session when lawmakers from across the political spectrum will pay tribute to an MP lauded for his decency and tireless constituency work.

"What really defined him is that, even when he disagreed with people, there was a generosity of spirit," deputy prime minister Dominic Raab told BBC radio.

"We'll miss him and I'll miss him personally," he added, noting Amess -- who was first elected in 1983 -- had always been "very kind and generous with his time and advice".

Lawmakers will hold a minute's silence after Patricia Hillas, the Chaplain of the House of Commons, delivers specially crafted prayers in the chamber at around 2:30 pm (1330 gmt).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will then lead several hours of tributes, before Speaker Lindsay Hoyle heads a procession of lawmakers to a remembrance service at a church in the grounds of Westminster Abbey.

Amess' family said late Sunday they were "absolutely broken" and "trying to understand why this awful thing has occurred" as they made a plea for tolerance.

Amess was a well-respected member of parliament for Southend West, in Essex, east of London
Amess was a well-respected member of parliament for Southend West, in Essex, east of London Adrian DENNIS AFP

"Set aside hatred and work towards togetherness," they said in a statement issued through police.

"Whatever one's race, religious or political beliefs, be tolerant and try to understand."

- Search for motive -

Police have declared the killing a terrorist incident and said they are investigating "a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism".

Counter-terror officers from London's Metropolitan police are leading the probe, with the force saying in its last update late Saturday that they were searching three addresses in the capital.

Police have been searching three properties in London after arresting a 25-year-old man at the scene of the stabbing on suspicion of murder
Police have been searching three properties in London after arresting a 25-year-old man at the scene of the stabbing on suspicion of murder JUSTIN TALLIS AFP

British media, citing unnamed official sources, have identified the suspect as Ali Harbi Ali, a British national of Somali descent.

On Sunday, officers stood guard outside a three-storey house in a quiet street in the north London district of Kentish Town, where his family is believed to live.

The suspect had been referred to Prevent, the official counter-terrorist scheme for those thought to be at risk of radicalisation, according to reports.

His father is a former prime ministerial adviser in Somalia, his uncle is the east African country's ambassador to China while his aunt runs a security think tank in the war-ravaged capital Mogadishu, the reports added.

The Times also said Monday that police were examining the close ties between Amess and Qatar, given the MP was chairman of a parliamentary group on the Gulf state and returned from his latest visit there earlier this month.

However, other newspapers reported Amess was not specifically targeted but picked randomly as part of a plot to kill any national politician after the suspect was allegedly self-radicalised at home during pandemic lockdowns.

Map of Britain locating attacks against British MPs since 1979
Map of Britain locating attacks against British MPs since 1979 Jonathan WALTER AFP

The killing has prompted fresh fears over MPs' security, five years after the similar killing of Labour MP Jo Cox in the febrile run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Interior minister Priti Patel has ordered a review of security measures for parliamentarians and vowed "to close any gaps" in security provision.

Police and parliamentary authorities were implementing "immediate changes and measures that are actively being put in place, and discussed with MPs," she said Sunday.