A British lawmaker who was killed in a terror attack last week has been eulogized as a “true patriot” and “an inspiration to all of us.”
LONDON— The deadly stabbing of a British legislator in a suspected terrorist assault on Friday stunned the British political establishment and underlined the ongoing difficulties countries confront in combating lone-wolf radicals equipped with simple weapons.
Police raided two houses in London on Saturday as they tried to figure out why a 25-year-old man reportedly stabbed legislator David Amess during a constituent meeting in his constituency just east of the city.
After being apprehended at the scene of the assault on suspicion of murder, the British citizen is currently in prison. Preliminary investigations indicate “a possible motive related to Islamist extremism,” according to the UK counter-terrorism agency, which issued a statement early Saturday.
On Saturday morning, Prime Minister Boris Johnson placed flowers at the Methodist church where Mr. Amess, 69, was stabbed several times.
Mr. Amess’s assassination is the second in five years that a British legislator has killed in a public assault, raising concerns about how governments can safeguard citizens against low-tech attacks by individuals.
As he was meeting with constituents, David Amess was assassinated.
TONY O’BRIEN/REUTERS/TONY O’BRIEN/REUTERS/TONY O’BRIEN/RE
In a show of resistance, many British MPs shared pictures of themselves meeting with people in person on Saturday.
According to a British official, the suspect was not a target of the security services and had not been engaged in any closed investigations at the time of his arrest.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said the government is beefing up security for members of Parliament. “All steps are being taken to ensure the safety of our [Parliamentarians] so that they can continue to do their responsibilities,” she added.
The task of preventing terrorist attacks has become more difficult in recent years as Islamic extremists have shifted their focus to attacks that are often inspired online rather than centrally coordinated or meticulously planned, as was the case in some of the UK’s deadliest security breaches, such as the 2017 suicide bombing at a Manchester music venue and a series of bombings in London that killed dozens in July 2005.
A candlelight vigil is being held in honor of British politician David Amess.
Getty Images/Tolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse
Last year, the government said that MI5, the country’s domestic espionage service, was looking into 3,000 radicals in 600 different investigations. According to a government study, MI5 thinks there is a pool of approximately 40,000 individuals who aren’t deemed an immediate danger but may become active terrorists. Many of them are not based in the United Kingdom.
The director general of MI5 said in September that 31 late-stage terrorist plots had been thwarted in the United Kingdom during the previous four years.
Following a series of low-tech terrorist strikes in recent years, including by people who had been freed from jail, the United Kingdom strengthened laws this year to prevent anybody convicted of a major terrorism crime from being released early.
The Counterterrorism and Sentencing Act also improved the powers available to counterterrorism cops and security agencies in order to “manage the danger presented by terrorist offenders and persons of concern outside of prison.”
The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre of MI5 downgraded the UK’s danger rating from “severe” to “substantial” earlier this year, indicating that a terrorist strike is still a possibility.
“They’re clearly difficult to anticipate because they may be launched with minimal logistical preparation,” said Rakib Ehsan, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a security think tank headquartered in the United Kingdom.
Three men were stabbed to death in a park in Reading, west of London, in 2020 by a 25-year-old man subsequently identified as an Islamic terrorist at trial. In 2019, a convicted terrorist who had been released from prison murdered two people in a stabbing assault in the heart of London, highlighting the difficulties encountered by overburdened counterterrorism authorities in preventing similar attacks in the United Kingdom and Europe.
Officials in Norway are investigating a bow-and-arrow assault that killed five people last week, and have accused a Danish man who authorities say converted to Islam and was reported for radicalization.
Extremists have previously attacked British politicians. A far-right fanatic fatally stabbed and shot legislator Jo Cox in her constituency in 2016, just before she was to meet with constituents. The assassination occurred only days before Britons decided to leave the European Union in a referendum.
In 2010, while visiting with constituents, a woman connected to an Islamic terrorist stabbed Labour MP Stephen Timms. Mr. Timms’ support for the Iraq war was opposed by the lady. Mr. Timms made it through the assault. Several members of Parliament were assaulted by the Irish Republican Army in the 1980s and 1990s.
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Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom visit their home districts many times a month to meet with constituents. They don’t usually have access to personal security information.
Mr. Amess had announced the meeting’s time and location to his constituents on his Twitter page many days in advance.
Members of Congress from a variety of political parties Saturday expressed astonishment and paid homage to Mr. Amess, who had served in the House of Commons for almost four decades and was one of the longest-serving members of the British Parliament. In 2015, Queen Elizabeth knighted him for his political and public service achievements. Hundreds of well-wishers laid flowers outside the church where he was murdered on Saturday.
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