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The fatal stabbing of a UK lawmaker has been deemed a terrorist act

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

London's Metropolitan Police say the killing of a British lawmaker is a terrorist attack. Sir David Amess was stabbed to death while he was meeting with constituents on Friday in a town in southeast England. A 25-year-old man was arrested at the scene. The British government is ordering a review of lawmaker security. And for more on that and the investigation, we're joined by NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt. Frank, thanks so much for being with us.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Frank, the Metropolitan Police Terrorism Command is leading the investigation. What have they said about the man that they have in custody?

LANGFITT: Well, what we're hearing is the police believe it was a British national of Somali descent. And they're also saying in the early investigation the potential motivation they're looking at is linked to Islamist extremism. And this is one of a series of Islamist - if it turns out to be an Islamist-related attack, we've had a number of them over the last five years, including one on Parliament, another on London Bridge. And in the past, what police do here, of course, as elsewhere - they go through cell phones, laptops looking for any connection, any searches for extremist websites, any contacts with extremist groups.

SIMON: The man killed, Sir David Amess, would not seem to be an obvious target for political violence, would he?

LANGFITT: No. He had been in Parliament for nearly 40 years. He's a member of Boris Johnson's Conservative Party. He represents various constituencies in Essex to the east of London. He's a conservative Brexiteer, devout Catholic, focused on animal welfare, pro-life issues, things along those lines. He was also - and I have no - we have no way of knowing if this is relevant or not, but he was co-chair of a British Parliamentary group on Iran freedom and supported Iranian dissidents groups who want a free political system in Iran and would like to replace the regime there.

SIMON: Frank, as we noted, the government's reviewing security arrangements for lawmakers. They don't get much protection now, do they?

LANGFITT: They don't. An average member of Parliament will go out and about just as you and I would. And one thing that's very important to this political culture here and people really value is the idea that people will go and spend - these lawmakers will spend time in their communities at - they'll meet at churches as David Amess did, at schools to talk to constituents. And people can just come in with whatever concerns that they have. And so there has not been security around those sorts of events.

SIMON: There have been other fatal attacks on members of Parliament, haven't there?

LANGFITT: Yeah. This is not the first at all. The most big recent one was 2016 - Jo Cox. She was a Labour member of Parliament, very supportive of staying in the European Union. She was killed by a right-wing extremist during the Brexit campaign back in 2016. And, in fact, her sister said - who's also in British Parliament, said that her partner, after what happened yesterday, told her to quit. So this really naturally - even though this has happened before, it's the second time in about five years. And it really does seem to have rattled a lot of lawmakers, understandably.

SIMON: Does it seem to you that lawmakers are going to continue to hold these kinds of open public meetings as before, at least at the moment?

LANGFITT: I think maybe at the moment - I mean, one MP said yesterday that these should be paused for now. I think there are big concerns if you start to try to take these things just purely online, which we had during COVID, is that it will create even greater distance between the lawmakers and their constituents. And that is a really - highly valued in the political culture here. That said, the speaker of the House of Commons - his name is Sir Lindsay Hoyle. He said, one thing we have to do is to make sure that democracy survives this.

SIMON: NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: It was great to talk, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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