UK police said early on Saturday that the killing of a leading backbench MP from the governing Conservative party was terrorism, with indications of a “potential motivation” linked to “Islamist extremism”.
The declaration, shortly after midnight local time, came after Sir David Amess, described as a “fine public servant” by the prime minister, was killed on Friday after being stabbed multiple times at a constituency meeting in south-east England.
London’s Metropolitan Police said searches of two addresses in London — not far from the scene of the murder in Leigh-on-Sea, in Essex — were under way. “These are ongoing,” it said.
No immediate indication was given of the whereabouts of the addresses being searched in the capital.
The force said that a 25-year-old man arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder was British.
“Senior national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism policing, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, formally declared the incident as terrorism,” a statement from the Met said. “The early investigation has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.”
The force said the investigation was being led by officers from the Met’s counter-terrorism command, working closely with the Eastern Region Specialist Operations Unit and Essex Police.
The death of Amess raised fresh concerns about the safety of MPs at their constituency meetings.
He is the second parliamentarian to be killed in such circumstances in just over five years, following the stabbing of Labour’s Jo Cox in 2016 shortly before she was to hold a ‘surgery’, where MPs meet local people face to face to hear about their concerns.
Stephen Timms, another Labour MP, was seriously injured when he was stabbed at just such a constituency meeting in 2010. Timms paid tribute to Amess on Friday evening as a “kind and generous man”.
Prime minister Boris Johnson also praised Amess as one of the “kindest, nicest, most gentle” people in parliament. “We’ve lost today a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague.” Johnson said Amess had “believed passionately in this country and in its future”.
Amess, 69, served as a Tory MP for almost four decades, representing Southend West since 1997.
He was hosting a surgery for constituents at the Belfairs Methodist church in Leigh-on-Sea when a man entered the building and stabbed him several times.
Essex Police said at the time a 25-year-old man had been arrested “on suspicion of murder” and a knife recovered.
Home secretary Priti Patel had asked all forces to review security arrangements for MPs with immediate effect, the Home Office said.
Patel said Amess’ death represented “a senseless attack on democracy itself”, adding that “questions are rightly being asked about the safety of our country’s elected representatives”.
Amess’ death highlighted the increasingly hostile environment that MPs have faced in recent years, including abuse on social media.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, praised Amess as a man devoted to his constituency and said the incident would “send shockwaves across the parliamentary community and the whole country”.
“In the coming days we will need to discuss and examine MPs’ security and any measures to be taken, but for now, our thoughts and prayers are with David’s family, friends and colleagues,” he added.
Amess had himself highlighted how threats to MPs have made them less accessible to voters. In his memoir, published this year, he wrote “these increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians”.
First elected an MP in 1983 when Margaret Thatcher was the Conservative prime minister, Amess was an ardent champion for Southend-on-Sea, a large coastal town, and frequently called for it to be granted city status.
He was a pro-Brexit campaigner, a member of the Leave Means Leave pressure group and an advocate for animal welfare.
Amess was a practising Catholic and supported socially conservative values. He is survived by his wife Julia, a son and four daughters.
Praise for Amess came from across the political spectrum. Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour party, said it was “a dark and shocking day” for the UK, adding: “We have, heartbreakingly, been here before.”
Jacqui Smith, a former Labour home secretary and chair of the Jo Cox Foundation set up after her murder, said: “This is a tragic loss for those who knew and loved Sir David . . . I knew him as a generous and dedicated colleague in parliament. Public life must be safe for those we ask to serve in our democracy.”
Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, described Amess’ death as “tragic and horrible” news. “A truly terrible day for British politics but most importantly of all our prayers are with all the people who loved David,” he said.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the Scottish National party, also paid tribute to Amess.
“In a democracy, politicians must be accessible and open to scrutiny, but no one deserves to have their life taken while working for and representing their constituents,” she said.