Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old British man whose father is a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, was charged with the brutal murder of UK Parliament member David Amess. He was arrested on Friday after he killed the conservative politician in broad daylight at Belfairs Methodist Church in a viscous stabbing.
The motive for the murder was previously unknown, but authorities now believe that David Amess’ death was the result of a terrorist attack, born out of tensions with Qatar.
Appearing in court on Thursday, Ali Harbi Ali wore a grey tracksuit and said nothing other than to confirm his name, age, and address. He heard the charges laid against him and returned to custody.
Speaking with UK’s Sunday Times, Ali Harbi Ali’s uncle told reporters that he believed David Amess, 69, was targeted over his stance on Qatar.
As chairman of all-party Parliamentary group on Qatar, Amess had recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to kick off trade negotiations and talk about military support to help protect the country from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Authorities believe that Ali Harbi Ali committed the terror attack to prevent these talks from continuing, as Somalia has close ties with Qatar.
“We will submit to the court that this murder has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations,” said Nick Price of the Crown Prosecution Service. “He has also been charged with the preparation of terrorist acts.”
Early investigations linked Ali Harbi Ali with ties to support for the Islamic State in Afghanistan, but these claims from Scotland Yard have yet to be confirmed.
According to Sky News, Ali Harbi Ali was born in the UK after his parents immigrated from Somali in the 1990s. They were escaping persecution, since his father was a former advisor the Somalian prime minister. He grew up in Croydon, south of London.
Neighbors and teachers speaking with Sky News said that he was, “a hard-working child, especially good at maths,” who “was a good boy, polite and friendly.”
“I would never have said he was on course for anything other than a positive outcome,” one teacher said. “He wasn’t an isolated child and engaged with his classmates.”
A next-door neighbor described him as “a friendly kid who used to kick a ball around in the street.”
Ali’s father has yet to comment at length on his son’s actions, other than to say that the family was currently “traumatized.”
Investigators found that Ali Harbi Ali had also visited the homes of another Member of Parliament earlier this year as potential reconnaissance for the attack. He also had a meeting planned with David Amess, though his office confirmed that Ali never showed up.
Security footage from CCTV cameras captured Ali walking around just hours before the murder, stopping in convenience stores and heading to the nearby Gospel Oak train station.
“I hope that the family of David Amess and all those who love him will get the justice they deserve as fast as possible,” said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Praising the police, he warned members of Parliament not to be “intimidated by this appalling murder into changing the way we conduct our Parliamentary business or the way we work in our constituencies – which I think is the last thing David Amess himself would have wanted.”
Johnson also called David Amess “one of the “most gentle individuals” to serve in UK’s Parliament.
Matt Jukes, Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, stated that the police force “will continue to build our case,” as detectives review computers taken from a London address believed to belong to the killer.
“It remains the case that no other arrests have been made and at this time we are not seeking anybody else in relation to this incident,” he said.