By Andrew MacAskill
LONDON -The British lawmaker David Amess who was murdered last year was “assassinated for terrorist purposes” by a man who had carried out surveillance on other targets, including cabinet minister Michael Gove, a London court was told on Monday.
Ali Harbi Ali, 26, a British citizen and son of an ex-media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia, denies the murder of Amess, who was knifed to death in a church in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London.
Prosecutors said the killing was revenge for the lawmaker’s support for air strikes on Syria after parliament approved the bombing, which began in 2015 targeting Islamic State. Ali had hoped police would shoot him dead at the scene so he would become a martyr, the court was told.
Ali had spent years planning an attack and had previously carried out reconnaissance on the home of Gove and the office of Conservative lawmaker Mike Freer, the court heard.
Amess was murdered “because of a warped and twisted” Islamist ideology, Tom Little, a lawyer for the prosecution, told the court on the opening day of the trial. “This is a case involving a cold and calculated murder.”
The killing of 69-year-old Amess, a married father of five children, sent shockwaves through Westminster and led to calls for better security for members of parliament, coming five years after another lawmaker was murdered on the street.
British lawmakers regularly hold “surgeries”, or one-to-one meetings, with voters in their constituencies, a tradition considered a bedrock of democracy. But with little or no security and an emphasis on access for all, surgeries can make lawmakers vulnerable.
On Oct. 15, Ali made an appointment to meet Amess who was holding a constituency surgery at the Belfairs Methodist Church on the pretext he had recently moved to the area.
At their meeting in an office at the back of the church, he tried to engage Amess in conversation about foreign policy and was seen using his mobile phone. The prosecution said he then apologised, produced a knife and stabbed him in a “vicious and frenzied attack”.
Amess screamed when he saw the knife and had stab wounds on both his hands as he tried to defend himself, Little said.
During July, August and September last year, Ali went to parliament seven times with the intent of attacking lawmakers as they left but concluded it was too heavily guarded, the court was told.
Ali also looked up the address of Gove, a senior minister in the British government, visited the area around his home five times and had a photo of him on his doorstep.
Prosecutors said a note on Ali’s phone included details of his plan to attack Gove, including “bump into him jogging”, “cause a scene outside to lure him” and “door is wooden and swings into house could be kicked in”.
The plan to attack Gove was abandoned when he found out he was separating from his wife, the house had been sold, and he targeted Amess instead, the court heard.
Amess was first elected to parliament to represent the town of Basildon in 1983, and then nearby Southend West in 1997. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2015 for his public service.
Ali, who appeared in the dock wearing a collarless black shirt and black-rimmed glasses, also denies preparing acts of terrorism. His defence lawyers are yet to open their case.