David Amess killing: suspect referred to Channel counter-terror scheme in 2014


October 19, 2021


Exclusive: Ali Harbi Ali received extensive support under government programme before case was closed

Tributes to Sir David Amess outside parliament in London on Tuesday. Photograph: Vuk Valcic/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock


By Vikram Dodd Police and Crime Correspondent | The Guardian


The suspect in the killing of the MP David Amess received extensive support under the government’s Channel counter-terrorism programme before his case was closed, the Guardian has learned.

Ali Harbi Ali was first referred to Prevent, the early intervention scheme designed to turn people away from the risk of supporting violence, as a teenager in 2014.

Each year a small proportion of the thousands referred to Prevent are then referred to the Channel programme for more intensive support, overseen by a panel with expertise in deradicalisation and helping those deemed vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism. Both programmes are voluntary and do not involve criminal sanctions.

Ali’s months-long referral to Channel may raise questions for ministers, police and security services. Officials point out that seven years elapsed between him being on Channel and being arrested on Friday on suspicion of murder and believe his engagement with Channel was properly handled.

Ali was referred to the scheme while he was attending an educational establishment in London in 2014 over concerns about him being drawn towards an Islamist ideology. A source with knowledge of the case said: “He went through the process and was discharged.”

He was among the higher cohort of concern of people referred to Prevent. He voluntarily accepted referral to the scheme and went though its processes. This involved having his vulnerability assessed and accepting support, the source said, adding: “He was not thought to pose a threat of terrorist violence and the case was closed.”

Official guidance says individuals with a “terrorism vulnerability” should be helped by Channel while those who are thought to pose a “terrorism risk” require action to be taken by police. The source said: “If we can stop people at a young age becoming criminals, that is good for society and for them.”

In the year to March 2020 there were 6,287 referrals to Prevent and 1,424 referrals to a Channel panel, 697 of which were adopted because of concerns an individual was at risk of radicalisation.

Ali’s father is said by friends and former colleagues to have been an outspoken critic of terrorism during his time as a senior official in the Somalian government. That has compounded the family’s shock after Ali’s arrest at the scene where Amess was repeatedly stabbed while holding a constituency surgery at a church.

Amess was a Conservative MP in Essex for 38 years. His killing has been declared a suspected terrorist incident by police.

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