On October 15th, 2021, the late Sir David Amess was savagely killed by a man wielding a knife while hosting a constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Now that man, Ali Harbi Ali, is facing trial for murder and preparing acts of terrorism—charges which he denies.
A post-mortem revealed that Sir David, who had served as a Conservative MP for Southend West since 1997, suffered as many as 27 stab wounds—including injuries to his face, arms, legs, torso, and hands, the latter suggesting he made efforts to defend himself. There was nothing the first responders—two local police officers, PCs Scott James and Ryan Curtis—could do to save the knighted MP, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Mr. Ali was immediately taken into custody.
The leading prosecutor in the case is Tom Little QC, who described the defendant as a “radicalised Islamist terrorist” at the Old Bailey court in London, where the trial officially began on Monday, March 21st. Mr. Little encouraged the jury to find Mr. Ali guilty of a “murder carried out because of a warped and twisted and violent ideology.” He then further argued that the attack was “no spur-of-the-moment decision,” as evidenced by the fact that the defendant had purchased the weapon he used to kill Sir David five years before. Police bodycam footage from the event, all of which the jury has viewed but only part of which has been released to the public, also showed Mr. Ali exclaiming: “I’ve done it because of Syria. I’ve done it because of the innocent people. I’ve done it because of the bombing. He deserved to die.” The prosecution cites this as evidence of an ideologically driven, premeditated murder long in the making.
Jurors also heard that Mr. Ali mistakenly assumed the first responders would be armed and therefore likely to shoot him dead as a “martyr.” But the location being Leigh-on-Sea, as opposed to central London, the PCs James and Curtis were instead just local, unarmed officers who, despite lacking weaponry, bravely stormed the building to arrest the knife-wielding suspect.
In addition to murder, Mr. Ali is also on trial for preparing other terrorist attacks, even if he eventually refrained from committing them. Michael Gove, the Conservative MP for Surrey Heath, was another possible target who, according to Mr. Little, Mr. Ali drew from a list of “523 MPs who carried out a vote to carry out airstrikes in Syria,” using the website theyworkforus.com.
Furthermore, prosecutors showed jurors evidence that Mr. Ali carried out trips to examine potential targets, leading him to take six different visits to Michael Gove’s London address throughout 2021. As the BBC reports, “data from the defendant’s phone also placed him in the proximity of the Houses of Parliament seven times between July and September 2021”—one month before he finally landed on Sir David as his target of choice. On Thursday, March 24th, the prosecutor Mr. Little gave further evidence of the defendant’s reconnaissance missions, showing the jurors CCTV footage of Mr. Ali’s movements around Westminster in July and September 2021. The suspected murderer’s search history also included proof that Mike Freer MP, the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab and the Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer had been scouted out as potential targets by the defendant in the months before Sir David’s killing.
Sky News further reports that Islamic terrorist propaganda on Ali’s phone was presented to jurors, including texts urging people to “kill them as they kill us” and calls to “wage jihad himself with the resources available to him—knives, guns, explosives to kill the crusaders and other disbelievers.” “#IslamicState” was also a frequent hashtag of Mr. Ali’s messages on Telegram, as well as images about ways to support Jihad by “praying to Allah to award you with martyrdom.”
As part of their efforts to highlight the lucid, self-conscious, and premeditated nature of Mr. Ali’s act, prosecutors also presented CCTV footage of the defendant’s journey from North London to Leigh-on-Sea where the suspected murder was committed. Mr. Ali, the Old Bailey court heard, had duped Sir David into meeting him at his surgery by pretending to live within the MP’s constituency.
On Friday, March 25th, the jury was shown videos of Mr. Ali’s interactions with authorities immediately following Sir David’s death. The defendant can be seen bluntly informing the custody officer, for example, that his motivation was “terror” with a “religious” basis. The police interview shows him re-emphasising this fact, saying “I killed an MP” and that “the nature of the crime is terror.” Mr. Ali is also on record admitting, as the prosecution claims, that he had organized and then “bottled” attempts to commit terror in the past: “I’ll be honest with you, there’s been a lot of times where I’ve gone out in my head with a plan to do something. And then I would come back home.”
The prosecution has urged the jury to reject any idea that Mr. Ali’s mental health might be offered as a mitigating factor in his defence. In his third filmed interview with officers, the suspect even told questioners that he believes himself to be “sane.” The defendant’s legal representatives are yet to make their case before court. The trial recommenced on Monday, March 28th.