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British lawmaker dies after being stabbed during meeting with constituents

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Britain, counterterrorism officers are investigating whether today's stabbing death of a member of the British Parliament was an act of terrorism. The lawmaker was killed as he was meeting with constituents in a town 40 miles east of London. NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt joins us now. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So can you just tell us more about exactly what happened? And how are police investigating it at this point?

LANGFITT: Yeah. Apparently, a 25-year-old man attacked Sir David Amess, stabbed him several times. It was in a Methodist church in Essex. And paramedics arrived. They tried to revive him, but couldn't. Police arrested the man at the scene. Reports are that he actually stood around afterwards, didn't even try to flee. And terrorism specialists are now handling the case. That doesn't mean that it is a terrorism case, but they're going to be looking very closely at that possibility, and they'll be using the usual kind of approach - going through his phone, laptop, searching for any extremist material, any connection to extremists that the police have been watching.

CHANG: Right. And can you tell us a little more about Sir David Amess? Like, is there any obvious reason he would have been targeted?

LANGFITT: No, I don't think there is. I mean, if you look at his political positions, there's nothing that would suggest, necessarily, that would inspire this kind of violence. Sir David had been in parliament nearly 40 years...

CHANG: Wow.

LANGFITT: ...Represented various constituencies out there in Essex and deep - known for deep Catholic faith, focused on animal welfare, pro-life issues. He was a hard core Brexiteer. He was also co-chair of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, which is a tough critic of the government of Tehran. But overall, I think very well-liked. And Prime Minister Boris Johnson had this to say earlier today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: The reason I think people are so shocked and saddened is, above all, he was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics.

CHANG: Well, I'm curious, Frank. How much security do British lawmakers even receive? And are officials there reconsidering that amount?

LANGFITT: Well, they won't address that question of security right now at the moment. I think they're focusing on the investigation, and I think also out of respect to Amess' family. But Priti Patel - she's in charge of law enforcement in the country, basically, and she says these are legitimate questions, and she'll be responding soon.

A little sense for Americans how this works. There have been attacks on the parliament building here, so security's very heavy there. But when British legislators go out and they meet their constituents, there's no official security.

CHANG: Interesting.

LANGFITT: And this meeting - what he was doing today - is really part of a political tradition and fabric of political life here. Parliamentarians go out. They meet people face-to-face. They ask questions...

CHANG: Yeah.

LANGFITT: ...In these small settings and, you know, try to help people. And that's kind of how they approach it.

CHANG: I mean, isn't this the second killing, though, of a British lawmaker in recent years?

LANGFITT: You're exactly right. In 2016, in the midst of the Brexit campaign, a woman named Jo Cox - Labour Party lawmaker - she was murdered under very similar circumstances. The attacker was a white supremacist, ultra-nationalist who stabbed and shot her. And at the time, he yelled, this is for Britain. So we have seen political violence like this in the past.

CHANG: Yeah. That is NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thank you, Frank.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.