British lawmaker David Amess was stabbed to death in an Essex church on Friday by an assailant who lunged at him as he met voters, in what police said was a terrorist attack.
The alleged killer has been identified as Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old British citizen of Somali heritage who is not believed to have been known to UK security, according to Sky News. He was arrested by British police, and a warrant of further detention has been granted.
Amess, 69, from Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party, was knifed repeatedly in the attack at about midday in the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London.
The Metropolitan Police, whose counter-terrorism unit are leading the investigation of the incident, said in a statement early on Saturday that they declared the fatal stabbing as a terrorist incident.
The early investigation has revealed a "potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism," the police added.
A 25-year-old man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder, and detectives said specialist counter-terrorism officers were leading the initial investigation.
"As part of the investigation, officers are currently carrying out searches at two addresses in the London area and these are ongoing," the police said, adding that it is believed that the suspect in custody acted alone.
Politicians described the attack as an assault on democracy.
"David was a man who believed passionately in this country and in its future and we have lost today a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague," said Johnson, who rushed back to London from the west of England after the news broke.
All our hearts are full of shock and sadness at the death of Sir David Amess MP.He was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics. pic.twitter.com/SIx6SZ1P3w— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) October 15, 2021
Johnson, interior minister Priti Patel, and leader of the opposition Labour Party Keir Starmer visited the church and were among those to lay flowers in tribute to Amess at the scene of the murder.
As tributes poured in for Amess, politicians described the attack as an assault on democracy, and Patel said security for lawmakers, known as MPs, was being reviewed and strengthened.
Armed police swooped on the church and paramedics fought in vain to save the lawmaker's life on the floor of the church, where a sign says: "All are welcome here: where old friends meet and strangers feel at home."
"Tragically, he died at the scene," Essex Police Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington told reporters. He said police at the time of the incident did not believe there was any immediate threat to anyone else.
He gave no other details about the killing, the second fatal attack on a British lawmaker in their constituency in the last five years, which has prompted questions about the safety of politicians.
Friday's stabbing echos the 2016 stabbing and shooting of Jo Cox, a Labour Member of Parliament, who was killed before a constituency meeting in West Yorkshire in June 2016, just days before the Brexit referendum.
Brendan Cox, the husband of Labour lawmaker Cox, reacted, "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."
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. pic.twitter.com/hwRN0PODPK— Brendan Cox (@MrBrendanCox) October 15, 2021
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett shared his condolences over Twitter on Saturday night, writing that he sent his "heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of British MP Sir David Amess. He was a true friend of the Jewish community and the State of Israel. His tragic loss will be felt by many."
I send my heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of British MP Sir David Amess. He was a true friend of the Jewish community and the State of Israel. His tragic loss will be felt by many.— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) October 16, 2021
Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also tweeted, "From Israel, we send our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Sir David Amess. He always stood with the Jewish community and was a true friend of Israel. May his memory be for a blessing."
From Israel, we send our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Sir David Amess. He always stood with the Jewish community and was a true friend of Israel.May his memory be for a blessing.— יאיר לפיד - Yair Lapid (@yairlapid) October 15, 2021
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "deeply shocked" by the "horrific slaying.""A true friend of the State of Israel and the Jewish People, he was cut down while serving the constituency which he loved so much," Netanyahu tweeted. "We grieve with the people of Britain over the tragic loss of a great parliamentarian and a great friend."
parliamentarian and a great friend.— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) October 16, 2021
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.