A “fanatical Islamist” inspired by Islamic State was found guilty on Monday of murdering veteran British lawmaker David Amess by knifing him to death in a frenzied attack in a church where he was meeting voters.
Ali Harbi Ali, 26, a British citizen and son of a former media adviser to a prime minister of Somalia, repeatedly stabbed Amess in an attack last October for what he said was revenge for the lawmaker’s support for airstrikes on Syria.
Prosecutors said he was a “committed, fanatical, radicalized Islamist terrorist.”
“This was a horrific act of terrorism motivated by religious and ideological beliefs,” said Nick Price, head of the Crown Prosecution Service’s Counter Terrorism Division. “Ali chose to commit this abhorrent crime for his own selfish and hateful reasons.”
Ali was found guilty of murder and preparation of terrorism at London’s Old Bailey court after the jury took less than half an hour to reach a verdict.
The killing of 69-year-old Amess, a married father of five children and a member of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, sent shock waves through Westminster and led to calls for better security for members of parliament (MPs), coming just five years after another lawmaker was murdered.
British lawmakers regularly hold “surgeries,” or one-to-one meetings, with voters in their constituencies, a tradition considered a bedrock of democracy. But with little or no security and an emphasis on access for all, surgeries can make lawmakers vulnerable.
Ali told detectives he had spent years planning to kill a lawmaker and had previously carried out reconnaissance at the Houses of Parliament, and of two other MPs, including cabinet minister Michael Gove.
He told police in interviews that he had “bottled” previous attacks and settled on Amess because he was “the easiest.” He also mentioned the lawmaker’s membership of the Conservative Friends of Israel Group.
“If I thought I did anything wrong, I wouldn’t have done it,” Ali, who described himself as “moderate,” told the court.
Stabbed at meeting in church
On October 15, he made an appointment to meet Amess at the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, northeast of London, on the pretext that he had recently moved to the area.
At their meeting in an office at the back of the church, he tried to engage Amess in conversation, before producing a 12-inch-long knife and stabbing him 21 times.
“I want him dead. I want every Parliament minister who signed up for the bombing of Syria, who agreed to the Iraqi war, to die,” he told a man who had also been due to meet Amess.
He had hoped police would shoot him dead at the scene, but gave himself up after his crying sister begged him to as they spoke on the phone, and as unarmed officers arrived.
Ali, who had no previous convictions, said he wanted to go to Syria to join Islamic State, but decided in 2017 he would carry out an attack in Britain instead.
He said the Covid-19 lockdowns had hampered his plans. He then scouted Gove’s London home five times but decided against attacking him after learning he had split up from his wife and the house had been sold.
He did reconnaissance at another MP’s constituency surgery and also went to Parliament six times with the intent of attacking MPs but concluded it was too heavily guarded.
He then settled on Amess, who was first elected to Parliament in 1983 and later became MP for Southend West. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015 for his public service.
Ali is due to be sentenced on Wednesday.