UK police examine possible Qatari-Somali link over killing of MP

October 18, 2021

Amess was chairman of the parliamentary British-Qatari friendship group and had returned from his latest visit to the Gulf state two days before his death. Above: Amess inspects one of stadiums for next year's Qatari World Cup.



[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach follow-up articles from today's UK and US papers regarding the murder near London on Friday afternoon of Sir David Amess, a veteran British MP from the governing Conservative party. A Somali-British man has been arrested and police are investigating his links to Islamist extremism.

Amess's murder came less than two days after five people were killed and several injured in a Norwegian town in a medieval-style bow and arrow attack by a Danish convert to radical Islam, and exactly a year after the horrific beheading of French school teacher Samuel Paty by an 18-year-old Islamist.

The man being questioned over the frenzied British stabbing, Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is the son of a former prime ministerial adviser in Somalia and comes from a well-off family that is prominent in Somalia politics. The Qatari regime backs the incumbent rival Somali president.

Amess returned from Qatar (his third visit in as many years) last Wednesday, where he met the emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

The current Somali President Mohamed has vowed to eliminate the jihadist group al-Shabaab, which continues to carry out a wave of suicide bombings and other murderous attacks.



Ali Harbi Ali was born in south London and educated at a local Church of England primary school. During his high (secondary) school he appears to have become radicalized. After school, he worked for the British National Health Service. The Sun newspaper reports today that he also studied for four years at the prestigious University College London to become a doctor.

Ali's father has himself previously been targeted by Islamist radicals and received death threats from al-Shabaab. He is cooperating with British police in an effort to understand his son's movements and behavior prior to the attack.

His father made regular trips back to east Africa, especially during the British winter, but it is not clear whether Ali went with him on these trips, and whether he might have become increasingly radicalized there.



In addition to Qatari connections, the 69-year-old Amess was a long-standing supporter of Britain's Jewish community and a campaigner for increased Holocaust education.

Speaking during this year's parliamentary debate for Holocaust Memorial Day in January, Amess told fellow MPs: "Although I myself am not a Jew but a Catholic, there is Jewish blood in each and every one of us. I would certainly have been proud to have been born a Jew, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with our local Jewish community".

In the past, Amess led the eventually successful campaign to have a statue erected in London in honor of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary, an endeavor for which Wallenberg lost his life. Amess was also a leading campaigner for animal rights, and also outspoken on behalf of the Chinese Uighurs.



Police examine Qatar link over killing of Sir David Amess
Amess had ties to Gulf state involved in Somalia
By Dominic Kennedy, Fiona Hamilton, Jane Flanagan
The Times (of London)
October 18, 2021

The close ties between Sir David Amess and the Gulf state of Qatar are being investigated by police after his murder.

The Conservative MP was chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Qatar and returned from his latest visit there on Wednesday last week.

Security sources emphasised that all avenues were being explored as they examined the killing. The man being questioned over the stabbing, Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is the son of a former prime ministerial adviser in Somalia. Qatar backs the present Somali president.

Amess, 69, was stabbed to death during a constituency surgery in a Methodist church in Leigh-on-Sea, in his Southend West seat in Essex, on Friday.

His family called for peace, tolerance, kindness and love saying: "Our hearts are shattered." In a statement they added: "We are trying to understand why this awful thing has occurred. Nobody should die in that way. Nobody. Please let some good come from this tragedy. We are absolutely broken, but we will survive and carry on for the sake of a wonderful and inspiring man."

Ali's father, Harbi Ali Kullane, who lives in north London, told The Sunday Times: "I'm feeling very traumatised. It's not something that I expected or even dreamt of."

A neighbour at Ali's childhood home in Croydon, south London, reacted to his arrest with disbelief, saying: "No it can't be him. Ali is a good boy. I knew him when he was young."

But a former friend told the Sun that Ali was "radicalised after watching online videos by convicted hate preacher Anjem Choudary. The friend said: "He became radicalised through the internet and now he's a suspect in something as evil as this. It's horrendous."

The Qatar group at Westminster seeks to foster good relations between Britain and the kingdom. Amess registered trips to Qatar in 2018 and 2020 funded by Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs worth a total of ?8,700.

In July this year he accepted ?700 of hospitality and accommodation to attend the Goodwood horseracing festival, which Qatar sponsors.

The veteran Tory MP invited the then ambassador, Yousef Al-Khater, to Southend in 2019. Amess held talks with him again in March this year, seeking Qatari investment for a ?60 million marina development in the resort.

Ali was arrested inside the church and has been co-operating with detectives at a London police station where he is being held under the Terrorism Act.

Scotland Yard said early investigations revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism. Sources said they were continuing to pursue that line and keeping an open mind.

Ali, who was born in Britain, was referred to the Prevent programme, which seeks to help those considered vulnerable to extremism, when he was in his late teens but was unknown to the security services. The Home Office is drawing up plans for a new minimum package of security measures that all police forces must offer MPs.

The killing has brought renewed fear to MPs following the murder of Jo Cox during the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016 and the stabbing of Stephen Timms by an Islamist when he was holding a surgery in 2010.

Police are examining whether the work Amess did to foster friendship between Britain and the Gulf kingdom of Qatar might have contributed to his death on Friday.

Amess is the British politician closest to Qatar and the all party parliamentary group of MPs makes regular visits to the Gulf. The highlight of the MPs' visit to Qatar last week was an audience with the emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, when Amess raised Southend's bid for city status.

Ali Harbi Ali is from a family that is prominent in Somalian politics. Qatar backs President Mohamed who was elected in February 2017 and has remained in post since his mandate ran out. It was when Ali's father, was advising Omar Sharmarke, who twice served as Somalia's prime minister, that the country began to court Qatar for investment.

After losing power in 2017, Sharmarke went into exile in Kenya where he lives in comfort. He remains unpopular at home.

Somalia's president, popularly known as Farmaajo, is at loggerheads with his prime minister ahead of delayed elections. In April, Mohamed tried to seek a two-year extension to his term, sparking armed clashes.

The stabbing suspect's wealthy family remain connected to Somalia's elite. Awale Kullane, Ali's uncle, is Somalia's ambassador to China, and his aunt is Samira Gaid, head of a security think tank in Mogadishu who has also advised the government. His father lives in Bounds Green, north London.

Amess told BBC Radio Essex of his visit last week: "I'm hoping to get Qatar behind it. I know that the majority of residents in Southend would welcome Qatari investment in Southend.

"If the House of Commons want to shut me up as the city bore they need to grant it to us because I've spent all my time mentioning it at every conceivable opportunity.

"It's a no-brainer, the benefits are enormous. We're engaging local residents with the situation, we've got some great events planned, and we've got a wonderful team of people who are putting our bid together so I'm really excited about the prospect. It could absolutely transform things in Southend and raise civic pride."

The emir reacted to the killing by saying that Amess "played an appreciable role in strengthening the historical relations between our two friendly countries. My sincere condolences to his family and the British people."

Amess brought Yousef al-Khater, then Qatari ambassador to the UK, to his Southend West constituency and was urging the Qataris to invest in the town. Amess later congratulated al-Khater on winning a seat on Qatar's shura council, the legislative body. The MP tweeted about his latest trip to the Gulf kingdom last week.

A security source said police were investigating whether the MP's leadership of the parliamentary group and relationship with Qatar were a credible line of inquiry. "It was the last issue that Amess tweeted about. Police are looking at it."

The source emphasised that it was one of several lines of inquiry and that nothing clear had yet emerged on why Amess was targeted.

As for Kullane, "there's no suggestion that the father was in any way extreme", the source said.

A Whitehall source said: "A specific, clear reason on why he was targeted has not been established."

The attack had probably been planned for the best part of a week. The suspected attacker booked a meeting at the MP's constituency surgery when it was advertised on social media.

Ali was referred to the government's Prevent programme, which helps protect people feared to be vulnerable to extremism, more than five years ago. A teacher at his school is understood to have made the referral. Whitehall sources said there was no apparent connection with al-Shabaab, the Somali-based jihadi fighters, nor any clear terrorist affiliation.



Somalia's strategic location in the Horn of Africa and potential offshore oil reserves make it an appealing target for foreign powers (David Rose writes in The Times).

Its leader, President Mohamed, has been accused by his critics of breaching electoral law to retain power with the backing of Qatar, the oil-rich state whose petro-dollars are claimed to have helped him to secure an election victory in 2017.

Mohamed was elected with promises to fight corruption and eliminate the jihadist group al-Shabaab, but Somalia's problems only got worse during his administration. Terrorism, suicide bombings and murderous attacks increased. The president's four-year term was due to end in February but he has clung on to power, triggering the worst political violence for years in April. He has reneged on repeated promises to hold new presidential elections.

According to some observers, Somalia's woes largely stem from the alliance Mohamed made with Doha. The president appointed Fahad Yasin, a former journalist with Al Jazeera, Qatar's state-funded broadcaster, to head Somalia's National Intelligence and Security Agency (Nisa), despite his apparent lack of qualifications.

Abdullahi Mohamed Ali, a former director of Nisa and former Somali ambassador to Turkey and the United Kingdom, wrote last year: "Nisa operations no longer focus on the battle against al-Shabaab, and instead are geared to silence political opposition and critical voices in civil society."

Rashid Abdi, a Horn of Africa specialist, said there was a "deep and malign" influence in Somalia including contacts of the al-Shabaab group now having positions within the intelligence services.

"Radicalised elements are not external to the Somali state, they are very much part and parcel of it," Abdi said. "There is definitely a jihadi network close to power in Somalia which is wealthy and either self-radicalising or being radicalised."

Fears of Qatar's increasing hold over their leaders and state structures has provoked a backlash from young Somalis, who express their anger on social media, too afraid to take to the streets.



Father of alleged jihadi suspected of killing Sir David Amess had himself faced Islamist threats
Former official in Somali government, who was targeted by al-Shabaab, said to be devastated at son's arrest in relation to attack on MP

By Martin Evans, Colin Freeman and Izzy Lyons, crime correspondents
Daily Telegraph (London)
October 18, 2021

The father of the alleged jihadist being held on suspicion of murdering Sir David Amess had himself received death threats from Islamist terrorists, The Telegraph can reveal.

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was continuing to be questioned on Sunday night in connection with the frenzied knife attack on the Tory MP, which is being treated as an alleged terrorist incident.

But his own father, Harbi Ali Kullane, a former director of communications for the prime minister's office in Somalia's Western-backed government, had previously been targeted by Islamist radicals.

Somali government sources said that during his time as an official in the country's administration, Mr Kullane received numerous death threats from al-Shabaab, the terror movement, which still controls parts of the country.

Mr Kullane, who moved to the UK from Mogadishu in the Nineties, is understood to have been targeted by the jihadists because of the hard line he took against terrorism in east Africa.

"He was quite involved in countering al-Shabaab's message in his role as comms director, and he received death threats from them for doing so, which is common for anyone involved in a high-profile position in the government," one source told The Telegraph.

"He himself despises terrorists, so it would be hard to imagine how his son has become radicalised as a result."

Mr Kullane, who now lives in the Bounds Green area of north London, was said to be "devastated" at the news that his son had been arrested in connection with the fatal attack on Sir David.

Counter-terrorism detectives are understood to have spoken to Mr Kullane at length and have also been examining his mobile phone in an effort to understand his son's movements and behaviour prior to the attack.

Ali Harbi Ali was born in 1996 in Southwark, south London, after his parents left war-torn Somalia and moved to the UK. The eldest of four children, he grew up in Croydon and was educated at a local Church of England primary school.


Neighbours in the quiet street where his mother and siblings still live described the family as ordinary and not particularly religious.

The parents separated when Mr Ali was still quite young and his father then began to split his time between London and east Africa, where he is thought to have homes in Mogadishu and Nairobi in Kenya.

One neighbour in Croydon said: "The dad was here when we moved in but we haven't seen him for a long time."

The mother, who locals described as a housewife, was said to be quiet and very respectable and wore a hijab only occasionally.

Another neighbour expressed their shock at the news that Ali Harbi Ali had been arrested in connection with the murder. "They were not extremists at all. They were not that sort of people. I would say they were just like us."

But while still at school, Ali Harbi Ali was referred to the Government's counter-extremism programme, Prevent, after concerns were raised about his increasingly radical behaviour. However, he did not remain in the programme for long and the issues were never thought serious enough to be flagged to MI5.

After leaving school, locals claimed he had got a job in the NHS, but it was not clear whether it was a clinical, administrative or support role.

Relatives claimed on Sunday night he had studied for four years at University College London to become a doctor, according to The Sun newspaper.

Despite moving away from the Croydon area, Mr Ali was a regular visitor to the family home, but according to locals had not shown any obvious signs of radicalisation. One said: "He dressed normally, just jeans and normal clothes."

During his late teens or early 20s, Mr Ali is thought to have moved in with his father and aunt in north London.

His father would regularly travel back to east Africa, especially during the British winter, but it is not clear whether Mr Ali went with him on these trips.

At the start of the pandemic, neighbours claim the family suffered a bereavement due to Covid, which hit them hard.

Most recently, Mr Ali had been living in a top floor flat in the Kentish Town area of north London, close to where Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, lives with his family.

The property is understood to be rented from the local authority and the main tenant is thought to be a female relative of Mr Ali. Police have spent the weekend searching the premises and on Sunday a blue tent remained in the front garden of the three-storey property.

The counter terror-investigation has continued to move at pace, but detectives so far believe Mr Ali was acting alone. However, specialists will be scouring his devices and media accounts in an attempt to establish any potential links with outside influences or other groups.

Another focus of the investigation will be to explore whether there is any evidence that he may have been radicalised online during lockdown.



The Amess Assassination
Was the killer of a Tory Member of Parliament motivated by radical Islamic sympathies?
Wall Street Journal Editorial
Oct. 18, 2021

The murder on Friday of Member of Parliament David Amess as he met with constituents has shocked Britain, and it ought to concern other Western democracies too. It's the first assassination of a British political figure by an apparent Islamist that we can recall, and it raises troubling questions about assimilation and democratic norms.

Amess, a 69-year-old Tory MP for Essex east of London, was among the most well-liked and respected backbenchers. His service extended to the Thatcher era and he had assisted refugees from the world's many despotisms. He was attacked in a church during his regular Friday constituent meeting. He was killed, in other words, doing the normal open business of representative democracy.

Media reports identify his killer as Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old British citizen of Somali heritage. He was waiting in a line of constituents when he stabbed Amess multiple times with a knife. Police are calling the assassination an act of domestic terrorism and are investigating Mr. Ali for radical Islamic sympathies or links.

The BBC reports that Mr. Ali, who is under arrest, was not on the MI5 "subjects of interest" list, but he had been referred to the counterterror Prevent program that aims to stop radicalization.

There have been other attacks on politicians in the U.K. and U.S. that are unrelated to Islamists. A far-right assailant killed Labour MP Jo Cox in a knife and gun assault in 2016. A Bernie Sanders sympathizer opened fire on Republican House Members practicing for their annual baseball game in 2017 and nearly killed Rep. Steve Scalise.

But if Mr. Ali's attack was motivated by extremist Islamic ideology, it will revive concerns about radicalization. Is he an immigrant himself, or a second-generation immigrant who became radicalized in the U.K.? Was Mr. Ali associated with an Islamist mosque or preacher? Radical Islam is at war with Western values, views jihad as a sacred cause, and exploits the openness of democratic societies to spread terror and kill the innocent.

British political figures were split over the weekend on what kind of security to provide MPs going forward. At least one Tory recommended suspending the in-person constituent meetings known as "surgeries." Others, including Home secretary Priti Patel, said such acts of terror shouldn't be allowed to end the accessibility and openness that are hallmarks of British democracy.

Our instincts lean to Ms. Patel's view, but then the country's security services and political culture will have to do a better job of addressing the spread of Islamic radicalism.


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All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.