The killer of Sir David Amess was dismissed as a terrorist threat by experts just months before he bought a knife to hunt down MPs, it can now be revealed.
Ali Harbi Ali, 26, is facing a life sentence after jurors took just 18 minutes to convict him yesterday of the ‘cold and calculating’ murder of the MP and a plot to assassinate other politicians.
After an extraordinary seven-day trial at the Old Bailey, it can now be revealed Ali was discharged by the Government’s flagship de-radicalisation Prevent scheme just months before he bought a £20 foot-long carving knife as he started planning a terrorist atrocity in Britain.
The shameless killer boasted to jurors he managed to fool counter-terrorism experts into dismissing him as a risk after just one meeting.
Now the Daily Mail can reveal Ali’s own mother suspected her son had joined the Islamic State terror group, but was too afraid to report him. According to his aunt, Ali’s father ‘never took the issue seriously until his son committed murder’.
The revelation poses new questions about how the home-grown terrorist managed to slip through the net.
Yesterday experts said the case had exposed failures of Prevent on the eve of a review by former Charity Commission chairman William Shawcross. In 2014, the teenager was referred by a teacher to the programme, which aims to stop people being drawn into violence.
At the time, Ali said he had ‘pretty much already radicalised myself’ as he spurned an offer to study medicine to spend more time in his bedroom musing on IS execution clips.
Family and friends claimed Ali was watching extremist videos online, including those by notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary, who last night issued an extraordinary press release defending Ali’s actions.
After his referral, Ali was sent for intensive support under the Channel counter-terrorism programme, overseen by a panel with expertise in de-radicalisation. But he was discharged in mid-2015 after it was decided he did not pose a terror threat. It meant he was not referred to MI5.
The killer of Sir David Amess, Ali Harbi Ali, 26, (Pictured after his arrest) was dismissed as a terrorist threat by experts just months before he bought a knife to hunt down MPs, it can now be revealed. He told the Old Bailey trial he had no regrets about the murder, defending his actions by saying Sir David deserved to die as a result of voting in Parliament for air strikes on Syria in 2014 and 2015
Conservative MP for Southend West Sir David Amess (left), pictured with his wife Julia Arnold (far left) and his four daughters
Bodycam footage released from police officers ordering terrorist Ali Harbi Ali to the ground in Belfairs Methodist Church
Emergency services at the scene near the Belfairs Methodist Church in Eastwood Road North, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, where Conservative MP Sir David Amess was killed last October
An email from Ali to Sir David Arness. Ali said he had an ‘interest in Christianity’ and wanted to discuss the ‘solutions’ to declining church attendances
Why was Ali allowed to give evidence despite admitting to killing?
By Duncan Gardham for MailOnline
Even though Ali admitted the killing, he denied murder, and was therefore allowed to give evidence in his defence.
He claimed that he had been acting to defend ‘the Muslims’ in Syria but, following legal argument, the judge ruled that he had no defence in law.
Mr Justice Sweeney told them: ‘Having considered the defendant’s account, taken at its height, in his favour, I direct you as matter of law, the killing was neither in lawful self-defence, nor in the lawful defence of another, nor in the prevention of a crime.
‘No other defence arises. Nevertheless, the defendant is in your charge and it remains for you to be sure that all three elements of the offence have been proved.’
During his trial, the fanatic bragged about outwitting experts by hiding his twisted ideology. He said: ‘Ever since I had a visit from the police in 2014, winter time, I kept shut and never spoke about that again or even politics stuff.’
He recalled meeting a Channel expert: ‘They asked me about Twitter accounts and how I felt about the Government and booked me in to speak to someone. There were supposed to be two meetings but they were happy enough with the first one and I didn’t hear anything after.’
Ali’s ambitions grew from wanting to travel to Syria and join IS into planning to kill one of hundreds of MPs who voted for air strikes in Syria in 2014-15. He bought a knife in 2016 and within three years he was regularly carrying it in a rucksack.
Ali initially planned to target Cabinet minister Michael Gove, staking out his home six times and formulating a plan with options such as ‘bump into him jogging, best outcome’.
He carried out research on 12 MPs and settled on Sir David Amess as he openly advertised his surgeries.
Ali met Sir David on October 15 last year at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, and stabbed him more than 20 times. The murderer was stopped by heroic officers wielding only batons.
Yesterday Ali refused to stand in the dock when he was convicted, muttering about ‘religious grounds’.
The killing came more than five years after Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by a Right-wing terrorist.
Her husband Brendan Cox yesterday said: ‘Like the killing of Jo, all it has achieved politically has been to allow millions of people to learn about David’s decency and the causes he cared about.’ Boris Johnson said: ‘Sir David Amess was a beloved colleague, public servant and friend who championed the city of Southend in everything he did. My thoughts today remain with [his widow] Julia, the Amess family and all those who knew and loved him.’
Ali is the latest Islamist terrorist to carry out an attack after being referred to Prevent. Khairi Saadallah, 27, fatally stabbed three men in a Reading park in June 2020. Prevent officials were warned he could carry out a ‘London Bridge-style attack’ but he was found to have ‘no fixed ideology’.
Usman Khan, 28, who stabbed two graduates to death on London Bridge in 2019, had come into contact with Prevent officers with ‘no specific training’ in handling terrorists.
Professor Anthony Glees, a security expert from the University of Buckingham, said: ‘Sir David’s killer has not been the only person who’s managed to play footsie with the Prevent people, even though he absolutely fitted the identikit picture of someone who risked turning to terrorism.
‘Yet he was still given the benefit of the doubt. This has got to stop.’
Sam Armstrong, of the Henry Jackson Society counter-terrorism think-tank, said: ‘When an avowed terrorist who spent years plotting a terror attack was discounted by Prevent, you have to ask questions about whether it continues to achieve its stated aim to tackle terrorism.’
A Home Office source said: ‘Prevent is an important tool but it is right that we are carrying out the review to ensure it is working as it should.’ Ali will be sentenced tomorrow.
Killer’s family suspected he’d joined Isis… but were afraid to report him
As children, there was nothing that made Ali Harbi Ali and his siblings stand out from their peers.
Attending a junior school linked to a church in Croydon, Ali would cheerfully sing along with the hymns and join in assemblies designed to imbue the pupils with Christian values.
‘They were quite happy at a Christian school and took part in our regular worship,’ recalled a teacher, who did not want to be identified.
‘Ali wasn’t a high-flyer, but was a hard-working child, especially good at maths. We had plenty of naughty boys, but he wasn’t one of them. He was a good boy, polite and friendly, and readily joined in with the other children.’
By the time Ali neared his A-levels, he was regarded as a model student with every chance of embarking on a career in medicine – in other words, a young man with the world at his feet.
Which makes the 26-year-old’s transformation into a ‘bloodthirsty Islamic State-supporting murderer’ who stabbed MP Sir David Amess to death all the more shocking.
And, for those tasked with preventing similar tragedies occurring in the future, all the more worrying.
Islamic State fanatic Ali Harbi Ali, 26, seen in a mugshot released today (left) and in a sketch from court today, right – where he refused to stand up while hearing his verdict for ‘religious reasons’
The 26-year-old stabbed Sir David more than 20 times with a foot-long carving knife at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
Ali is also accused of preparing acts of terrorism by targeting MPs Michael Gove and Mike Freer between May 1 2019 and September this year
Born in Southwark in February 1996, Ali is the eldest of four children. His father, Harbi Ali Kullane, was a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia who moved to the UK from Mogadishu, marrying wife Jamila in London.
But the couple split when Ali was young, with his father dividing his time between London and east Africa.
Ali grew up in a three-bedroom 1980s terrace house in Croydon with his mum, brother and two sisters. His family was ‘full of love and care’, Ali would tell police, adding: ‘I had a big wider family that used to come round and help. I don’t recall any bad memories from that time.’
Ali attended Parish Church Junior and Infant School – now Minster Junior – in Croydon, followed by Riddlesdown Collegiate School in Purley, the old school of model Kate Moss.
Unarmed officers who tackled terrorist are given bravery award
The two unarmed police officers who tackled Sir David Amess’s murderer Ali Harbi Ali have been given a bravery award, Essex Police said.
Pc Ryan Curtis and Pc Scott James were awarded the Merit Star – Essex Police’s highest accolade since 2020 – in a private ceremony in November.
The pair recalled the moment they arrived on the scene at the Belfairs Methodist Church.
Pc James said: ‘No one knew if there were any other members of the public inside with the attacker. At this point we knew there was no option other than for Ryan and I to go inside without Taser or firearms support.
‘We couldn’t stand outside if there was a chance other people were getting attacked and we also wanted to get paramedics inside the building as soon as possible to save Sir David.
‘Our biggest fear that day was that there were other defenceless people inside with Sir David waiting for the police to come through the door – so any fears we had were put to one side.’
Pc Curtis told of the moment Ali walked towards them holding the murder weapon.
In a statement through Essex Police, he said: ‘Once we got inside, we shouted at the suspect to drop the weapon and he refused and then he started walking towards us with the knife.
‘We didn’t know what he was going to do, we knew he might attempt to attack us, but we had to stop him getting past us as there were other members of the public outside. We carried on shouting at him and trying to persuade him to stop and eventually he dropped the weapon allowing us to arrest him.’
Pc Curtis added: ‘We are not heroes – we did what any other officer would have that day. We only wish we could have done more and we continue to think of both Sir David and his family.’
For his first five years there, he was said to have ‘excelled academically’. ‘He was smart, especially in sciences,’ one former friend recalled. ‘I remember him scoring well on science tests consistently. I can only assume he wanted to do medicine to help people, which is exactly the kind of person he was.’
He added: ‘I don’t recall ever seeing him angry. Frustrated about something trivial like any other kid, yeah, but never angry. The conversations I can remember having with him were about the edgy kinda rock that teens typically love, video games – that kind of stuff.
‘He was very sweet, and just welcoming in general. Whenever I think of him, I just see the happy, dorky kid and teen that everyone liked. It’s unthinkable that he’d so much as instigate a scuffle, yet alone kill someone.’
But as Ali approached his A-levels, his attendance and school work declined sharply – despite having been offered a place to study medicine at St George’s. As he would later admit to police, he was turning towards extremist views.
‘By that time, I pretty much already radicalised myself,’ he told them, his indoctrination apparently having occurred largely via the internet.
ThE radicalisation did not go unnoticed by teachers, who referred Ali to Prevent, the early-intervention scheme designed to turn people away from the risk of supporting violence. Scotland Yard has admitted Ali ‘spent some time’ in the scheme, but said any failings would be examined at the inquest into the death of Sir David.
Ali passed his A-levels with two Ds and an E, much worse than expected. He stayed on until 2015 so he could re-sit biology. He then got a place to study radiotherapy at City University but attended for only six months before officially dropping out at the beginning of his second year.
On September 22, 2016, he emailed a lecturer claiming a ‘mixture of recurrent illness, Eid and family problems’ had kept him out of university for two weeks. I have had the opportunity to think on the reasons of why I took on the course and if it is something I want to continue with,’ he added. ‘I came to the conclusion that I no longer want to continue with it. I want to pursue a different direction in life.’
By then, Ali had moved out of the family home in Croydon, to live with his aunt and cousins in Kentish Town, north London, in order to be closer to university. But sources close to the investigation told how Ali’s family said they did not realise he had dropped out of university and were not aware of what he was doing for the next five years.
A source in Kenya said: ‘He never shared the right information with his family. So after leaving his mum’s it seems he never wanted people to know about him.’
It appears that it was only following the murder that his relatives become fully aware of the extent of his radicalisation.
One of Ali’s aunts in Nairobi said: ‘Ali was motivated by Islamic extremism. I’ve spoken to my sister in London several times about her son Ali’s character and conduct. She told me that he was under the influence of his friends who are connected to Islamic extremism…
‘She suspected her son had joined the Islamic State group through one of his friends early [last] year but she was scared to report it to police.
‘Instead, she informed Ali’s father, Harbi Ali Kullane, who never took the issue seriously until his son committed murder.
‘Ali’s family are well-off financially and they are well-educated people. Ali is an intelligent and quiet boy but he has been inspired by Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.’
Ali’s aunt described him as a ‘loner who didn’t socialise very much’, adding: ‘Ali would always be seen with Muslim scholars and used to spend most of his time in mosques and places where they preach about Islam.’
A close relative in Kenya added: ‘We believe Ali wanted to join the Islamic State group in 2016. Some of his friends in London were members of the terrorist organisation and had travelled to Syria via Turkey.’ Family and friends say Ali started to watch extremist videos online, including those posted by hate preacher Anjem Choudary.
After his arrest, searches of his mobile phone and laptop devices found images of terrorist attackers and ‘inspirational’ IS propaganda.
One phone had been used since 2016 to receive messages that appeared to be official IS propaganda and communications via a channel on the encrypted Telegram app. A video on the device showed a man in a black turban and holding an assault rifle, giving a sermon to a circle of masked men in a field, that ended with them chanting: ‘Islamic State!’
With his hopes of travelling abroad having come to nothing, by 2019 Ali had settled on an attack in Britain. But his plans were disrupted by the pandemic in 2020.
Having bought a £20 knife from Argos, he carried it in his bag throughout the summer of 2021 as he ‘scoped out’ possible targets, jurors heard. He carried out reconnaissance on the Houses of Parliament but found police there were ‘armed to the teeth’.
Ali researched MPs online, including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove.
By September last year, Ali had settled on Sir David as an easy target after seeing his upcoming surgery in Leigh-on-Sea on Twitter. He made an appointment through the MP’s office, falsely claiming he was moving to the area and was interested in churches.
On the morning of the murder, Ali went to pray at Al-Risaalah mosque in Holloway, north London. Mosque manager Abdi Warsame said: ‘He used to pray at the mosque sometimes. His aunt was at the mosque on the day of the murder and she ran away when she heard about what happened. She was on the phone and then she just ran out.
‘We were all shocked we couldn’t understand why he would do that.’
As for Ali, he showed no remorse. In court, Tom Little QC, prosecuting, asked him: ‘If you could turn the clock back to the morning of October 15, you would leave your property in London and head to Leigh-on-Sea intending to kill Sir David Amess? You are utterly shameless about that?’ Ali replied: ‘I wouldn’t use the word shameless, but I don’t feel any shame.’
‘You regret nothing?’ Mr Little asked. ‘Nothing,’ Ali said. ‘If I thought there was something wrong, I wouldn’t have done it.’
Timeline: Terrorist spent years scoping out targets before brutally murdering Sir David Amess and bought a knife from Argos
Here are the key events leading up to the murder of Sir David Amess:
2014: Ali Harbi Ali considers travelling to Syria to join Islamic State but does not go.
2016: Around this time Ali buys a 12-in knife from Argos, which he used to kill Sir David.
2017: He decides to carry out an attack in the United Kingdom.
From May 2019: Ali notes down an MP’s home address and an attack plan, and saves it on his mobile phone.
2020: The terror plan is disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
March to July 2021: Ali stakes out the west London home address of Government Minister Michael Gove six times.
July to September: He visits the House of Parliament six times.
September 17: Ali carries out more hostile reconnaissance outside Mike Freer MP’s constituency surgery in Finchley, north London.
September 27: Ali finds out about Sir David’s constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex and emails to make an appointment claiming to be moving to the area. Following an email exchange with aide Rebecca Hayton, an appointment is fixed for noon on October 15.
October 15: At 8.40am, Ali sets off from his home in Kentish Town. He travels by foot and train to Gospel Oak Station and Barking, arriving at Leigh-On-Sea at 10.22am.
At 10am Sir David Amess begins his constituency surgery at the Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea. He is accompanied by two staff, Ms Hayton and Julie Cushion.
Between 10.28am and 11.50am, Ali is captured on CCTV walking around Leigh-on-Sea, arriving at the church shortly before noon.
Just after 12noon, Ms Hayton escorts Ali to meet the MP in a vestry office.
Ali tells Sir David he wants to talk about foreign affairs before stabbing him 21 times. Shortly before or after Ali sends a WhatsApp message to friends and family explaining his attack ‘in the name of Allah’.
At 12.07pm, Essex Police receive a report of the incident from Ms Cushion.
At 12.13pm, Constituent Yvonne Eaves calls 999 and describes how she and partner Darren King were being threatened by Ali.
While Ms Eaves is on the phone, Pc Scott James and Pc Ryan Curtis, who are armed with batons, arrive at the church and apprehend 26-year-old Ali, who drops the 12-inch long carving knife.
At 1.10pm, Sir David is pronounced dead.
October 18: Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces Southend will be granted city status.
– Lady Julia Amess makes an emotional visit the church in Leigh-on-Sea.
October 21: Ali Harbi Ali, from Kentish Town, London, is charged with murder.
October 22: The defendant appears at the Old Bailey by video-link from high-security Belmarsh prison.
– MPs are offered a security guard for constituency surgeries following a review into their safety.
October 27: An inquest into the death of Sir David is opened and adjourned.
November 15: The UK’s terrorism threat level is raised after two attacks in a month.
November 22: A private funeral takes place for Sir David in Southend-on-Sea, Essex.
November 23: The Pope praises Sir David’s years of ‘devoted public service’ in a message read at a Westminster Cathedral service.
December 21: Ali appears at the Old Bailey for a plea hearing charged with murder and preparation of terrorist acts.
March 2022: Ali goes on trial accused of preparing terrorist acts and murder.
April 11 2022: A jury deliberated for just 18 minutes to find Ali guilty of murder and preparing for terrorist acts.