Sir David Amess was allegedly targeted because he was accessible and the fatal attack would otherwise have been aimed at another politician, sources have told the Standard.
It is not thought that the politician was picked out because of his links to Qatar or any other of his connections or views.
Instead, he was allegedly chosen simply because he was an MP and it was possible to find him at the regular constituency meeting he was holding at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, where the deadly stabbing took place on Friday. The disclosure about the attack — which is understood to have been inspired by Islamist ideology — came as counter-terrorism police and MI5 continued to investigate the circumstances that led up to the killing. Ali Harbi Ali, 25, a London-born man of Somali heritage whose most recent address was in Kentish Town, was arrested at the scene of Sir David’s killing and is being detained under the Terrorism Act at a police station in the capital.
He can be held until Friday under the current warrant obtained by police from magistrates before a decision to charge, release him, or apply for an extension has to be made.
Searches of his home and those of his parents in Croydon and Bounds Green have concluded but detectives and spies are continuing to analyse a mass of phone and computer data as part of the investigation.
CCTV emerged on Monday night apparently showing the suspect walking along Highgate Road near Gospel Oak station three hours before the attack on Sir David.
Sources said that it still appeared that the suspect was “self-initiated” through online extremist content and had shown no obviously visible signs in public of any dangerous intent.
One Whitehall official added that although it was difficult even through forensic searches and analysis to work out when precisely when a person tipped onto a path towards violence, the killing of Sir David appeared unlikely to be purely “a lockdown attack” triggered by a person spending more time online away from public view as a result of the coronavirus restrictions. He added that the suspect’s referral to the Prevent scheme as a teenager was one indication that radicalisation had taken place well before the pandemic and that the data analysis taking place was likely to uncover further evidence of problematic internet use before restrictions.
The source said that might raise questions for the big tech companies about whether their algorithms could do more to detect and report patterns of online activity that indicated dangerous intent.
The continuing investigation into Sir David’s murder came as reports suggested that a forthcoming review of the Prevent de-radicalisation scheme is to recommend a greater role for police and spies in deciding which potential extremists should be concentrated on.
The review, ordered by the Home Office in response to criticism of the scheme from MPs and organisations including the Muslim Council of Britain, is understood to raise fears that others such as teachers and health staff are at times too keen to focus on the positive aspects of an individual, rather than giving sufficient recognition to the danger they might pose. Sources said that although Home Secretary Priti Patel has yet to receive the review, which is being compiled by the former Charity Commission boss William Shawcross, she was likely to be sympathetic to reform.
The disclosure follows the revelation that Ali was referred to Prevent several years ago as a teenager, but never flagged or logged by MI5 as one of its many “subjects of interest”.
It remains unclear, however, what effect a different approach may have had at the time of Ali’s referral as he appears to have shown no public signs of dangerous extremism that might have ensured that he was being monitored in the run up to the attack.
Southend’s residents hailed the announcement that their home will be granted city status following local MP Sir David Amess’s campaigning on the issue. The Essex town was among a number competing to be made a city as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations next year.
Monday’s announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hailed as a “sombre but special moment” by the mayor, and “emotional but incredible” by a local councillor.
Local shop worker Lee Jordison told PA: “I think it’s great news and a fitting tribute to a man who campaigned for so long to want to have Southend awarded city status. I’m sure the town of Southend will be equally as happy! It’s just a real shame he never got to see it happen but I’m sure his family will be proud that this was honoured because of him.”
Vicky Ford, the Conservative MP for Chelmsford, tweeted: “At this time of great sadness it is utterly fitting that Southend will become a City.”