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The man arrested on suspicion of murdering David Amess had considered killing other MPs, the Telegraph understands.
The investigation into the tragic death of Amess suggests he was not specifically targeted, but picked at random as part of a plot to kill any national politician.
The realisation three days into the police investigation that there may have been no specific motive for the targeting of Amess will further reinforce the need for MPs across all parties to tighten up security at their homes and constituency offices.
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Ali was seen using his mobile phone moments after the murder, according to sources. The Telegraph has not been able to establish whether the phone was used to record comments after the attack - including identifying with a particular terrorist organisation - or to send a message to a third party.
The actions, seen by witnesses in the room, though, are understood to be at the centre of why investigators labelled the attack a “terror incident” within hours of the murder.
According to sources, he said nothing of note during the attack, but then picked up his phone before his arrest.
Investigators will inevitably be attempting to work out who the suspect had been in contact with in the run-up to Friday’s attack to better understand what went on. They believe that Ali acted as a "lone wolf" in what security services describe as a "low-sophistication" plot that requires little planning. Such plots are almost impossible to thwart.
Reports had initially suggested the right wing Tory politician, who was MP for Southend West, had been selected because of his values, views or religion. There had been claims that Amess’s devout Catholicism had been a factor, but those were scotched on Sunday night.
There had also been fears his close ties with the Gulf state of Qatar, through his capacity as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Qatar, may have played a role.
Police and intelligence officials now believe he was stabbed to death simply because his alleged killer had succeeded in booking a face-to-face appointment as part of an indiscriminate and chilling attack on democracy.
The Telegraph understands sources close to the investigation believe Ali may have considered killing other MPs, including Labour and Tory politicians, before picking Amess. Preliminary investigations will end any speculation that there was a specific motive for Amess to be killed.
“He was unlucky,” said one source inside Government. “He was not targeted because of his political party. David Amess was not specifically targeted.”
Another source said it remained “unclear” why Amess was chosen.
It is unclear if Amess was chosen after posting on Twitter details of the time and place of his Friday lunchtime constituency surgery. Ali made a booking to see Amess a week before the MP was stabbed multiple times in a frenzied attack.
The alleged killer has no known connections to Leigh-on-Sea or to Amess, authorities have now concluded. He grew up in Croydon in south London and was living in Kentish Town in north London.
Police and security services believe the motivation may have been to strike down an MP to further the Islamist cause espoused by groups such as al-Qaeda, Islamic State and al-Shabab, which is active in Somalia. Ali himself was born in the UK and it is not thought he had made any recent trips to either Somalia or nearby Kenya, where al-Shabab also has a strong base. Nothing has been flagged on travel databases while travel to east Africa during the Covid pandemic has been difficult and may have raised concerns among authorities.
Amess, 69, who had been an MP since 1983, met the public every fortnight and advertised the details on his parliamentary website. It is thought Ali travelled to Essex by train to carry out the attack and police are combing CCTV to track his movements. Ali, according to reports, had apparently told Amess’s constituency staffers that he had recently moved to the area.
It is unclear if Ali had attempted to make a constituency booking with other MPs or if research material was found on phones and computers seized by police.
Ali was not known to MI5, the domestic intelligence service, although he had been reported to Prevent, the Government’s counter-extremist body, some years ago. Referrals to Prevent are not necessarily passed on to MI5.
Amess was meeting constituents at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday afternoon when he was stabbed multiple times.
The MP spoke to PR professional Richard Hillgrove to discuss the Children's Parliament, an event where youngsters are matched with MPs, soon before the attack. Mr Hillgrove ended the Zoom call at 12.02pm, three minutes before Amess, a married father-of-five, was stabbed.
Ali was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder and was later further detained under section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and is in custody at a London police station.
A warrant of further detention, which allows detectives to hold the man until October 22, was granted at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Saturday.
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