A 25-year-old man appeared in court on Thursday after being charged with the murder of British MP David Amess, who was stabbed to death last week in what lawyers said was an attack with a “terrorist connection”.
Ali Harbi Ali, who was arrested at the scene of the killing in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London, last Friday, also faces a separate charge of preparing acts of terrorism.
He appeared in court in central London wearing a grey tracksuit and thick-rimmed glasses, speaking only to confirm his name, age and address at the 13-minute hearing.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and London’s Metropolitan Police announced charges against Ali earlier on Thursday.
Nick Price, head of the CPS special crime and counter-terrorism unit, said lawyers would submit that Amess’ killing “has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations”.
Amess, a 69-year-old father-of-five, was killed as he met constituents at a church hall, in the second such death of a British MP in the last five years.
The veteran Conservative MP’s death sparked an outpouring of tributes from his parliamentary colleagues, but also calls for better security for elected representatives.
Labour MP Jo Cox was killed as she met constituents near Leeds, northern England, in the febrile run-up to the Brexit referendum in June 2016.
Home Secretary Priti Patel on Wednesday evening said intelligence officers had upgraded the threat level for politicians to “substantial”.
But she said there was no “specific or imminent threat”.
Shocked colleagues held a minute’s silence in parliament for Amess on Monday. Patel, a friend of the respected MP, said his killing was “an attack on our democracy”.
But there have been calls for MPs to take responsibility by ending divisive political rhetoric that has intensified since the vote for Britain to leave the European Union.
Amess’ family last weekend also made a plea for greater tolerance, as several MPs spoke of receiving death threats and a stream of abuse.
“Set aside hatred and work together towards togetherness. Whatever one’s race, religious or political beliefs, be tolerant and try to understand,” the family urged in a statement.
But on Wednesday, a handful of protesters erected a mock gallows outside parliament, accusing MPs of “treason” for imposing coronavirus lockdowns and vaccination programmes.
Labour MP Peter Kyle tweeted a photograph of the noose and said he had been told by one protester: “This is what we do with traitors.”
“Out of the two of us I’m the one whose life and routine must adapt, not his. Our politics really is broken,” he added.
On Tuesday, police had to scramble to protect a senior minister in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet, Michael Gove, when he was surrounded by an angry crowd.
Matt Jukes, assistant commissioner for specialist operations at the Met, told reporters that detectives have been working around the clock on the case.
Searches had been carried out at several London addresses, while forensic examination had been conducted on digital devices and security camera footage reviewed, he said.
Jukes confirmed that security arrangements for all of Britain’s 650 MPs were under review both at parliament and in their constituencies.
Unnamed official sources have previously told the media that Ali is British of Somali origin.
But Jukes warned against further speculation, given strict reporting restrictions now in place before any trial.
“I understand the huge level of public interest in this case,” he said.
“But now a charge has been brought, it is vitally important that everyone exercises restraint when commenting on it publicly, to ensure future court proceedings are not prejudiced in any way.”