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British lawmaker killed in knife attack

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A lawmaker from the U.K.'s ruling Conservative Party has died after being attacked today. He was stabbed during a public meeting with his constituents in Southend-on-Sea in the southeast of England. And NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt is on this story. Frank, hi.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What happened so far, as you know?

LANGFITT: Well, his - (inaudible) - apparently, a man came to one of his constituents meetings, which is normal for people. And so what ended up happening is a man came into this church where he was meeting with his constituents, about 40 miles east of London, and began stabbing him. Paramedics did come, but Sir David died at the scene. Local police say they took a 25-year-old man into custody. They've recovered the knife and say they're not looking at anyone else at this time. And they didn't name him. And, Steve, I should say that unlike the United States, the police here in the United Kingdom don't give out as much information, so it may be a little bit of time before we can find out more about who the alleged assailant is and why he might have done this.

INSKEEP: Frank, there was some difficulty on your line. We're having a little difficulty hearing you now, so I'm going to repeat a couple of facts on this breaking story. You said his name was Sir David Amess, that he was having a public meeting, I believe, with constituents. It was being held in a church. It was a regular thing. He could regularly be found there. And on this occasion, someone came in and stabbed him. Is that all correct?

LANGFITT: That's absolutely correct, Steve.

INSKEEP: So there is just one suspect and nothing is known about him?

LANGFITT: Yeah, there is one suspect, Steve. And they have him in custody. He's 25 years old. And that's all we know so far. They haven't named him yet. And that's common here in the United Kingdom. Sometimes it can take quite a bit of time for the police to release information.

INSKEEP: Would he have had any security protection at one of these meetings?

LANGFITT: Very unlikely. You know, this - again, this is a country that's very different than the United States. Gun ownership laws are very strict here. There is a - growing knife crime. But clearly, this wasn't a common criminal act. And so, no. The other thing is, I think parliamentarians, just like, you know, to some degree in the United States - parliamentarians here really like to get out into their communities, and they like to be very close to their constituents - so highly unlikely. You only see that kind of tight security around Britain's Parliament here in London.

INSKEEP: Do parliamentarians, though, not have reason to fear that there could be an attack? Because there was another one not too many years ago.

LANGFITT: There was. And I think it's actually - this was back in 2016 when I was covering the Brexit campaign. And a man with white supremacist and Nazi sympathies shot and killed a woman named Jo Cox. She was an MP with the Labour Party. She was a very similar situation in that she was meeting with constituents up in West Yorkshire, where she lived. The man's name was Thomas Mair - is Thomas Mair. He yelled, this is for Britain, as he attacked her. Cox was a very strong supporter of remaining in the European Union. At the time, people attributed this in part to kind of the polarization of politics in this country, which has only grown, really, since the Brexit vote. What we don't know, Steve, is exactly why this person would have done this. In terms of David Amess, we know that he is a very conservative politician. He is pro-life, supports animal welfare, a big supporter of the monarchy. But we don't know if there was any political reason for this. I should also mention he was 69 years old, father of four daughters and a son. Theresa May, the former prime minister, you know, called it a tragic day for our democracy.

INSKEEP: Repeating your caution about speculating about the motive of this person - who knows at this point. It's by definition an act of political violence, but we don't know what was in the mind of the attacker. But is this a particular particularly tense time in the U.K.?

LANGFITT: I don't know that it is, and so I'm actually rather surprised that this has happened. You know, you don't have an election coming up. Brexit is in the rearview mirror. So no, I don't feel that it is. And I'm very curious to find out from the police what actually might be behind this.

INSKEEP: OK, Frank Langfitt - NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, Steve.

INSKEEP: And Frank is giving us an update on the death of Sir David Amess. He is a British parliamentarian, apparently stabbed several times and killed during a public meeting at a church in the southeast of England today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.