Alberto Pezzali / AP
LEIGH-ON-SEA, England A long-serving member of Parliament was shot dead Friday during a meeting with voters at a church in England, in what police said was a terrorist incident. A 25-year-old man was arrested in connection with the attack, which united fractured British politicians in shock and grief.
Counterterrorism officers were leading the investigation into the assassination of Conservative lawmaker David Amess. In a statement early Saturday, Metropolitan Police described the attack as terrorism and said the early investigation “has revealed a possible motivation linked to Islamic extremism”.
Amess, 69, was attacked at noon on Friday at a Methodist church in Leigh-on-Sea, a town about 62 miles east of London. Doctors tried unsuccessfully to save him. Police arrested the suspect and found a knife.
Chris McAndrew / British Parliament through the AP
They did not identify the suspect, who was held on suspicion of murder. Police said they believed the suspect acted alone and was not looking for anyone else in connection with the murder, though investigations are ongoing.
The assassination came five years after another lawmaker, Jo Cox, was assassinated by a far-right extremist in her small town area, and she resumed concern about the risks politicians risk taking in their work representing voters. In general, British politicians are not given police protection when meeting with their constituents.
Tributes were poured out for Amess from across the political spectrum, as well as from the community she had served for decades. Residents paid homage to him on a vigil at a church in Leigh-on-Sea.
“He kept that great East London spirit of not being afraid and of being able to talk to people and the level at which they are,” said Rev. Fr. Jeffrey Woolnaugh at the vigil, which was attended by about 80 people. “Not all politicians, I would say, are good at this.”
Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he and his cabinet were “deeply shocked and heartbroken”.
“David was a man who believed passionately in this country and in his future, and we have lost today an excellent public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague,” Johnson said.
The prime minister would not say whether the attack meant politicians needed stronger security, saying: “We must really leave the police to continue their investigation.”
Amess was a long-serving politician who was named knight in 2015
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 to the right of his party, he was a well-known figure with a reputation for hard work for his constituents and relentless campaign to proclaim Southend a city.
Amess, who leaves a wife and five children, was named knight by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015 for his service, becoming Sir David.
Nick Ansell / AP
The flags in Parliament were lowered to half staff amid a host of questions about the safety of lawmakers.
“This is an incident that will cause shock throughout the parliamentary community and across the country,” said House Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. “In the coming days we will have to discuss and consider the safety of the MPs and any action that needs to be taken, but for now, our thoughts and prayers are with David’s family, friends and colleagues.”
British lawmakers have no security in their constituencies
Violence against British politicians is rare, but concerns have been raised about the country’s increasingly bitter polarization of politics.
In 2016, a week before the country’s divisive Brexit referendum, Cox, a Labor lawmaker, was stabbed to death and shot in northern England. Also, some people have been jailed in recent years for threatening lawmakers.
British lawmakers are protected by armed police when inside Parliament, and security there was strengthened after an Islamic State-inspired group stabbed to death a police officer at the gates in 2017.
Alberto Pezzali / AP
But politicians do not have such protection in their constituencies. Amess published the hours and locations of his open meetings with voters on his website.
Two other British lawmakers have been attacked over the past two decades during their “operations”, regular meetings where voters can present concerns and grievances.
Labor lawmaker Stephen Timms was stabbed in the stomach in 2010 by a student radicalized by online sermons by an al-Qaeda-linked preacher.
In 2000, Liberal Democrat Nigel Jones and his aide Andrew Pennington were attacked by a man holding a sword during such a meeting. Pennington was killed and Jones wounded in the attack in Cheltenham, England.
Politicians across the spectrum express their grief
Former Prime Minister Theresa May, a Conservative, wrote on Twitter that Amess’s assassination was a “tragic day for our democracy,” and former Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was “shocked and horrified.”
Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party said on Twitter: “In a democracy, politicians should be accessible and open to scrutiny, but no one deserves to take their own lives while working and representing their constituents.”
Kim Leadbeater, Jo Cox’s sister and now a Member of Parliament herself, said it was “terrible” that Amess’s family was experiencing what she had been through.
“They will think about this every day for the rest of their lives,” she said.
“I find myself now working as a politician and trying to do good things for people, and it ‘s really important to have good people in public life, but this is the risk we are all taking, and a lot of MPs will be afraid of this. “
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