LONDON — A long-serving British lawmaker from the Conservative Party died after being stabbed multiple times in an attack Friday while meeting with constituents in a church building in his home district.
Police said a 25-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder and a knife was recovered. Authorities did not reveal the man’s identity. But early Saturday, the counterterrorism division of London’s Metropolitan Police force formally declared the incident as an act of terrorism.
“The early investigation has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism,” a police statement said, adding that they believed the man acted alone.
“We are not seeking anyone else in connection with the incident at this time,” the statement said. “As part of the investigation, officers are currently carrying out searches at two addresses in the London area and these are ongoing.”
David Amess, 69, who represented Southend West in Essex, was meeting with local residents about an hour’s drive east of London when he was killed. Amess received treatment at the scene of the assault but died there, police said.
Fellow politicians decried the killing of Amess as horrific. Amess is the second British lawmaker since 2016 to be killed while out meeting constituents, raising calls that members of Parliament might need more security. On social media, many wondered whether a more partisan England is more prone to this kind of violence. Other lawmakers have been physically attacked, and many have been screamed at and harassed while entering or exiting Westminster Palace.
“This is an incident that will send shock waves across the parliamentary community and the whole country,” said Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the House of Commons. “In the coming days, we will need to discuss and examine MPs’ security and any measures to be taken.”
Lawmakers mixing with their constituents is a cherished tradition here, and British politicians are often seen at charity functions, school plays, local sporting events, and the pub. But there’s been a long-running debate over how much security they should be offered when out and about.
In Amess’s killing, the Daily Mail tabloid reported: “One woman ran out of the church in the chaos yelling down the phone after dialing 999, telling the call handler: ‘Someone’s been stabbed, please get here soon, he’s not breathing.’ “
Amess was a long-serving member of Parliament and a married father of five. He was a royalist and a vocal supporter of Brexit, which saw Britain leave the European Union. He pushed for a ban on fox hunting, supported animal-welfare legislation, opposed abortion, and was a leading voice in the Conservative Party in support of Israel.
The attack stirred memories of the 2016 killing of Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox, 41, who died after being shot and stabbed by Thomas Alexander Mair, a white supremacist and extreme nationalist who supported neo-Nazi ideology. Mair was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes. Another Labour Party lawmaker, Stephen Timms, was stabbed in a 2010 attack but survived.
Jo Cox’s widower, Brendan Cox, tweeted about Friday’s attack: “My thoughts and love are with David’s family. They are all that matter now. This brings everything back. The pain, the loss, but also how much love the public gave us following the loss of Jo. I hope we can do the same for David now.”
Earlier Friday, Cox called attacks on elected representatives “an attack on democracy itself. There is no excuse, no justification. It is as cowardly as it gets.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the country heard the news in shock and sadness and that Amess was “one of the kindest” people in politics. Across Britain, “RIP David Amess” was trending on social media as tributes poured in from stunned Britons.
Flags were lowered to half-staff at 10 Downing Street. One lawmaker recollected that Amess was “friendly, always cheerful, always kind and generous,” while another simply called the attack “unforgivable.”
Carrie Johnson, the wife of the prime minister and a former Conservative Party communications chief, called the attack “absolutely devastating news.” She added that Amess was known to be “hugely kind and good,” and was “a true gent” and “an enormous animal lover.”
Angela Rayner, a Labour Party leader, said she was “horrified” by the stabbing. Former British prime minister David Cameron called the news “very alarming and worrying.”
British lawmakers meet regularly with their constituents in appointments to discuss public matters and personal needs and complaints. Amess had posted online Tuesday that he was due to hold his next meeting with local residents Friday at the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea.
Amess was awarded a knighthood in 2015 by Queen Elizabeth II for his years of political and public service.