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British MP Jo Cox Shot And Killed; Suspect Is In Custody


In Great Britain, there's shock and mourning over the murder of a member of Parliament. Yesterday, while meeting with constituents, Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death. Her alleged attacker was arrested nearby. She had been a tireless advocate for Syrian refugees and other causes. She was a member of the opposition Labour Party, but Britain's conservative prime minister, David Cameron, had this to say about her.


PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: She was a bright star, no doubt about it, a star for her constituents, a star in Parliament and a star right across the House. And we've lost a star. But above all, I'm thinking of her husband, Brendan, the children, the family and her constituents, who will be feeling this huge sense of loss tonight.

MONTAGNE: Jo Cox's murder comes in the midst of a fierce political debate over next week's referendum on whether Britain should pull out of the European Union. She supported staying in the European Union. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in London and joins us now. Good morning.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What is the latest on the investigation? And is there an indication, as it would seem, that her killing had something to do with that referendum?

KENYON: Well, it's still early days in the investigation. The police have not put any motive forward as why Jo Cox was killed. There are signs. There's a possibility that the gunman may have been a follower of White Nationalists and even neo-Nazi groups. There's local sources in Yorkshire who've identified the attacker as a man named Thomas Mair. And one witness told the BBC that he shouted, Britain first during this attack on Jo Cox.

Now, Britain First, that's a far right nationalist party here. And even beyond that, if Thomas Mair is the gunman, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a U.S. group that tracks extremists, they say on their website that Mair was a follower of the National Alliance, the former American neo-Nazi group. The center even says in 1999, Mair purchased a manual from them that included instructions on how to build a gun. And it's of course much harder to buy guns here in Britain.

MONTAGNE: And tell us more about Jo Cox. She has been attracting really soaring and warm tributes.

KENYON: Well, she was a brand-new MP, just elected in 2015. She's a former aid worker. She described herself on Twitter as a true-Yorkshire lass. She's a mother and a wife, had two young children. And despite her junior status in the opposition Labour Party, she was already rising up the ranks and getting a lot of attention. She traveled to conflict zones in her previous career - Gaza and Pakistan. She wasn't shy about talking about the big issues. Her House of Commons speeches were often about things like the conflict in Syria, the refugee crisis it generated. Here, let's listen to a bit of her comments.


JO COX: Can the prime minister tell the House whether he thinks he has led public opinion on the refugee crisis or followed it? As we know all too well, it is the Assad regime that are primarily responsible for this policy of sustained systematic starvation.

KENYON: And so obviously, some big issues she was talking about. And lawmakers are saying they really want to carry on that work, if possible. Her husband, Brendan Cox, meanwhile says what Jo really would have wanted is people to unite against the hatred that killed her.

MONTAGNE: Well, here in America, her death brings to mind the shooting of then-U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who has said already via Twitter that she was - I quote, "absolutely sickened to hear of the assassination of Jo Cox." How is the reaction in Britain?

KENYON: Well, there's been an outpouring of grief and tributes, of course, as you mentioned. But there's also questions now about security for MPs. The Times of London says police were considering extra protections for lawmakers, and in particular Jo Cox, before this happened. Now, usually MPs don't have security details unless they're very prominent figures. And they are expected to be out in their districts talking to constituents a lot. And that's exactly what Jo Cox was doing yesterday when she was killed.

MONTAGNE: And the killing of Jo Cox, what has it meant for next week's referendum vote on whether the U.K. should withdraw from the European Union?

KENYON: Well, it's basically ground to a halt. I mean, both sides have halted all their campaign events yesterday and today. The vote's next Thursday. Obviously, they're going to have to get back in gear pretty soon. But I can tell you, right now nobody feels comfortable talking politics.

MONTAGNE: Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Peter Kenyon, speaking to us from London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.