Forty miles from the church in Leigh-on-Sea where Tory MP Sir David Amess was fatally stabbed, police officers spent Sunday morning searching a north London flat believed to have been home to the suspect in that case.
Detectives wearing blue latex gloves were seen entering the three-storey Victorian townhouse on a smart residential street in Kentish Town, the top two floors of which were said to have been occupied by Ali Harbi Ali, his parents and siblings. Two more officers stood guarding the entrance. The blinds and curtains of the middle and upper floors of the house were all closed.
A yellow police forensics gazebo was later erected in the front garden, with blue panels around the sides of the tent to prevent members of the public being able to see inside.
“The whole thing sends shivers down my spine,” said one local resident cycling past the police and huddle of journalists, their cameras pointed at the house.
“We’re so far from Leigh-on-Sea,” she said.
Another neighbour, who grew up on the street and said he knew the family, described them as “always very polite, very kind”.
“I knew a guy who lived in the house, I thought he was around 28 or 29, he was lovely,” the man, who did not want to be named, said. “He had older brothers, I think there were four brothers in all, and the mum and dad. I thought the dad was living in Somalia.
“It has come as a complete shock to me. They were quite quiet but were nice, cool, calm people. They would always ask about my family. We never had any problems with the brothers.
“There were no weird comings or goings, they spent a lot of time indoors but everyone did during lockdown.”
The 25-year-old suspect is being held under the Terrorism Act at a police station in the capital.
Local people to whom The Independent spoke said there was nothing to suggest their neighbour would end up as a murder suspect in a killing that has stunned the country.
A woman living close by said the area was “mixed” and the leafy street itself was “lovely”.
Another neighbour walking his dog near to the house said he was “shocked” that police would have any cause to search the property. “I never would have expected that,” he said.
Officers have been carrying out searches at three addresses. On Friday, police were at a house in Croydon, south London, reportedly Mr Ali’s childhood home.
A neighbour there told the Daily Mail he had once claimed to work for the NHS. Officers have also searched a third unspecified location, also said to be in London.
Kahiye Alim, director of the Council of Somali Organisations, said that while he did not know the suspect or his family, it was his understanding that they were “well-educated”.
Mr Alim said: “The father held a role of political importance in Somalia, and he was very active on social media, posting about Somali politics.
“It is quite normal for the diaspora to move back and forth between the UK and Somalia. The father had held a media communication director role for the prime minister but there was an election in 2016 and a new government in 2017.
“Right now it is time for the family to be left alone.”
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