Police in England say the fatal stabbing of a long-serving member of Parliament during a meeting with constituents at a church on Friday has been declared a terrorist incident.

A 25-year-old man was arrested in connection with the attack on Conservative lawmaker David Amess, which united Britain’s fractious politicians in shock and sorrow.

Counterterrorism officers were leading the investigation into the slaying. In a statement early Saturday, the Metropolitan Police described the attack as terrorism and said the early investigation “has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.”

Amess, 69, was attacked around midday Friday at a Methodist church in Leigh-on-Sea, a town about 62 kilometres east of London. Paramedics tried without success to save him. Police arrested the suspect and recovered a knife.

They did not identify the suspect, who was held on suspicion of murder. Police said they believed the suspect acted alone, and were not seeking anyone else in connection with the killing, though investigations continue.

The attack came five years after another MP, Jo Cox, was killed by a far-right extremist in her small-town constituency, and it renewed concern about the risks politicians run as they go about their work representing voters. British politicians generally are not given police protection when they meet with their constituents.

WATCH | Locals leave flowers in tribute to Amess: 

Locals react to fatal stabbing of David Amess

As forensic teams continued to investigate the crime scene, members of the local community left flowers as a tribute to the British lawmaker. (REUTERS/Andrew Couldridge) 1:00

Following the fatal stabbing on Friday, tributes poured in for Amess from across the political spectrum and from the community he had served for decades. Residents paid tribute to him at a vigil at a church in Leigh-on-Sea.

“He carried that great East London spirit of having no fear and being able to talk to people and the level they’re at,” Rev. Jeffrey Woolnaugh said at the vigil, attended by about 80 people. “Not all politicians, I would say, are good at that.”

Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he and his cabinet were “deeply shocked and heart-stricken.”

WATCH | Johnson says Amess had ‘outstanding record’: 

Boris Johnson pays tribute to slain MP David Amess

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the stabbing death of long-serving Conservative MP David Amess has left him and his cabinet ‘deeply shocked and heart-stricken.’ 1:33

“David was a man who believed passionately in this country and in its future, and we’ve lost today a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague,” Johnson said.

The prime minister would not say whether the attack meant politicians needed tighter security, saying, “We must really leave the police to get on with their investigation.”

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau extended his condolences on Twitter, saying his “thoughts are with [Amess’s] family and loved ones.”

Lawmaker for nearly 4 decades

Amess had been a member of Parliament for Southend West, which includes Leigh-on-Sea, since 1997, and had been a lawmaker since 1983, making him one of the longest-serving politicians in the House of Commons.

A social conservative on the right of his party, he was a well-liked figure with a reputation for working hard for his constituents and campaigning ceaselessly to have Southend declared a city.

Amess, who leaves a wife and five children, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2015 for his service.

Flags at Parliament were lowered to half-mast amid a profusion of questions about lawmakers’ security.

Police forensics officers work at the scene of the fatal stabbing at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday. Amess’s slaying marked the second death of a U.K. politician while meeting voters since 2016. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

“This is an incident that will send shock waves across the parliamentary community and the whole country,” House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said.

“In the coming days, we will need to discuss and examine MPs’ security and any measures to be taken, but for now, our thoughts and prayers are with David’s family, friends and colleagues.”

Violence against British politicians is rare, but concerns have grown in recent years about the increasingly bitter polarization of the country’s politics. Several people have been jailed in recent years for threatening British lawmakers.

In 2016, a week before the country’s divisive Brexit referendum, Cox, a Labour Party lawmaker, was fatally stabbed and shot in her northern England constituency. An extremist was convicted.

People pray at a mass in memory of Amess at Saint Peter’s Catholic Parish of Eastwood in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

British lawmakers are protected by armed police when they are inside Parliament, and security there was tightened after an attacker inspired by the Islamic State militant group fatally stabbed a police officer at the gates in 2017.

But politicians have no such protection in their constituencies. Amess published the times and locations of his open meetings with constituents on his website.

A photograph of Amess is displayed prior to the service at Saint Peter’s Catholic Parish of Eastwood on Friday. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

Two other British lawmakers have been attacked this century during their “surgeries” — regular meetings where constituents can present concerns and complaints.

Labour legislator Stephen Timms was stabbed in the stomach in 2010 by a student radicalized by online sermons from a preacher linked to al-Qaeda.

In 2000, Liberal Democrat lawmaker Nigel Jones and his aide, Andrew Pennington, were attacked by a man wielding a sword during such a meeting. Pennington was killed and Jones was injured in the attack in Cheltenham, England.

‘So many MPs will be scared by this’

Former prime minister Theresa May, a Conservative, tweeted that Amess’s killing was a “tragic day for our democracy,” and former Labour prime minister Tony Blair said he was “shocked and horrified.”

Conservative lawmaker Tracey Crouch tweeted: “Heartbroken. I could write reams on how Sir David was one of the kindest, most compassionate, well liked colleagues in Parliament. But I can’t. I feel sick. I am lost.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party said on Twitter: “In a democracy, politicians must be accessible and open to scrutiny, but no one deserves to have their life taken while working for and representing their constituents.”

WATCH | Amess colleague says MPs a sitting target: 

After British politician’s stabbing death, colleague says MPs a sitting target

In the wake of a deadly attack on Sir David Amess Friday, his colleague British Conservative MP Andrew Percy tells Power & Politics that one of the great traditions of the British Parliamentary system is meeting constituents, which in some respects makes MPs a sitting target. ‘I don’t think there’s a member of Parliament who hasn’t had threats,’ he said. 4:46

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Church of England, said the killing was a blow to “everyone who desires a peaceful and flourishing democracy.”

Kim Leadbeater, Jo Cox’s sister and now a member of Parliament herself, said it was “horrific” that Amess’s family was experiencing what hers had gone through.

“They will think about this every single day for the rest of their lives,” she said.

“I find myself now working as a politician and trying to do good things for people, and it’s really important you get good people in public life, but this is the risk we are all taking, and so many MPs will be scared by this.”

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