Ali Harbi Ali: what are the potential motivations behind David Amess’s murder?

Police and security services said to be exploring a number of theories

David Amess graffiti
A new piece of graffiti artwork in Leigh-on-Sea depicts the late David Amess
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Security sources investigating the murder of MP David Amess during a constituency clinic in Essex on Friday have said they are keeping an open mind about the motivation for his killing.

The political establishment was left shocked after the 69-year-old was fatally stabbed in a Methodist church in Leigh-on-Sea in his Southend West seat.

A 25-year-old suspect was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder and later transferred to a London police station, where he was detained under the Terrorism Act. He has been named as Ali Harbi Ali, the British son a former senior Somali government official.

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The Qatar connection

On Saturday, police said early investigations had revealed “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”. But today The Times said security sources have “emphasised that all avenues were being explored as they examined the killing”.

One of these lines of enquiry, said the newspaper, is whether Amess’s ties with Qatar might be linked to his death. The Times described him as the British politician closest to the Gulf kingdom, which backs the current Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. The Conservative MP chaired the all-party parliamentary group on Qatar and had visited the country just last week.

“According to some observers, Somalia’s woes largely stem from the alliance Mohamed made with Doha,” said The Times’s David Rose. President Mohamed clung on to power when his four-year term was due to end in February, triggering the worst political violence the country had seen for many years.

Fears of Qatar’s increasing hold has provoked “a backlash from young Somalis, who express their anger on social media, too afraid to take to the streets”, he added.

MI5 ‘mystfied’

Another theory reported in The Telegraph is that Amess was not specifically targeted, but “picked at random as part of a plot to kill any national politician”.

Investigators believe Ali acted as a “lone wolf” in what they call a “low-sophistication” plot with little planning, said the paper. One source inside government told the Telegraph that Amess was simply “unlucky”.

The newspaper said this theory would appear to “scotch” claims that Amess, a devout Catholic, was selected “because of his values, views or religion”.

The Daily Mail said that MI5 was also “mystified” as to why Amess might have been singled out.

The Prevent referral

Ali is understood to have been referred to the flagship anti-extremism scheme Prevent in his “late teens”, which coincided with “a deterioration in his relationship with his Somali-born parents”, said the Mail.

However, he was “never a formal subject of interest to MI5”, said the BBC, which explained that engagement in the Prevent scheme is “voluntary and it is not a criminal sanction”.

“Teachers, members of the public, the NHS and others can refer individuals to a local panel of police, social workers and other experts who decide whether and how to intervene in their lives,” it added.


Police and security services believe the motivation behind the attack may have been to “further the Islamist cause espoused by groups such as al-Qaeda, Islamic State and al-Shabab, which is active in Somalia”, said The Telegraph.

Ali does have Somali heritage, it added, but he was born in the UK, grew up in Croydon and it is not thought he had made any recent trips there.

His father, Harbi Ali Kullane, a former director of communications for the prime minister’s office in Somalia, was a victim of Islamist death threats himself, said The Telegraph. Al-Shabaab, the terror movement that still controls parts of the country, had reportedly targeted him over the hard line he took against terrorism when he lived in the country.

Kullane, who now lives in north London, told The Sunday Times that he was feeling “very traumatised” after his son was arrested. “It’s not something that I expected or even dreamt of.”

So far, Whitehall sources say there is nothing to suggest Ali had extensive contact with terror groups abroad, said The Independent. But detectives are thought to be looking at the possibility that he “may have been ‘self-radicalised’ online by material found on the internet and social media networks during lockdown”.

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