The father of the suspect in the inquiry into David Amess’s killing, was a committed anti-extremist who risked his own life trying to thwart hate groups, his friends and colleagues have said.
Amess, 69, was stabbed to death on Friday just after midday while holding his constituency surgery in his role as MP for Southend West in an Essex church. A man aged 25 was arrested at the scene and continues to be held in custody.
Detectives investigating the killing have been in discussions with lawyers specialising in terrorist prosecutions as they try to understand the motive for the attack and why Amess was attacked.
The suspect, Ali Harbi Ali, had at one stage lived in Southend and at the time of the attack was resident in London. He was previously known to Prevent, the official programme to identify and help those deemed at risk of radicalisation.
His father, Harbi Ali Kullane, a former director of media and communications for a former prime minister of Somalia, is said to be in shock after the arrest of his son over the attack that shocked Westminster.
Kullane’s friends and former colleagues said he worked on projects against extremism in Mogadishu.
Abdirachid Fidow, who works for not-for-profit organisation the Anti-Tribalism Movement, said: “The father worked a lot of anti-terrorism projects in Mogadishu, fighting against al-Shabaab. He was someone who endangered his own life in public service fighting against extremism.”
Another friend, who is based in Mogadishu and previously worked closely with Kullane, but wants to remain anonymous, said: “He’s a very chill guy. He doesn’t hang out with old people. He always hangs out with young people. He is a very charismatic person.”
He added that Kullane had always been a liberal, open-minded man, who was not very religious. Neither was the family, he said, who are well known in Mogadishu. “It has come as a shock. I couldn’t connect the incident with Harbi,” the friend said.
Fidow said the British Somali community were bracing themselves for a rise in hate crime incidents. “We know one Somali organisation has received death threats. I’ve also heard that some mosques have closed down while others are advising parents not to send their children to the madrasah [school] this weekend.
“This shouldn’t be framed as a Somali crime or a Somali problem.”
Detectives in London have been granted a warrant to hold Ali until Friday under terrorism powers.
Why Amess, a backbench MP, was attacked is a significant line of inquiry and also crucial to establishing the scale of threat to MPs who regularly meet the public. The suspect booked an appointment to see Amess last Friday at the constituency surgery held in Leigh-on-Sea.
Amess was stabbed multiple times, and so seriously injured that he was pronounced dead at the scene, without even being taken to hospital.
The suspect waited after the attack for police to arrive and arrest him. It is alleged that nothing was said by the suspect during the attack that pointed to a terrorist motive.
The determination to class it as a terrorist attack was made by deputy assistant commissioner Dean Haydon, the senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism.
Amess was chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Qatar and some of its members have contacted police to ask if their connections to the Gulf state place them at any special risk. They are not thought to be at risk.