Witnesses on Attack of British Lawmaker

Witnesses described the attack on Thursday that killed Jo Cox, a member of Britain's parliament.

By THE NEW YORK TIMES on Publish Date June 16, 2016. Photo by Phil Noble/Reuters. Watch in Times Video »

LONDON — A member of Parliament was gunned down outside a library in northern England as she was wrapping up a meeting with constituents on Thursday afternoon, a rare act of political violence in a nation that strictly regulates firearms.

The lawmaker, Jo Cox, 41, who was considered a rising star in the opposition Labour Party and was a passionate advocate for victims of the civil war in Syria, was shot in Birstall, a town about six miles southwest of the city of Leeds. A 77-year-old man was slightly injured in the attack.

A 52-year-old man was arrested in Ms. Cox’s killing, and the police said they were not looking for any other suspects. No motive has been established, officials said.

Gun ownership in Britain has been tightly controlled since a 1996 massacre at a school in Scotland, and historians said it was the first time a sitting member of Parliament had been killed since 1990, when the Irish Republican Army assassinated a Conservative lawmaker, Ian Gow.

The killing occurred one week before a referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union, and both sides immediately halted campaigning out of respect for Ms. Cox.

“The death of Jo Cox is a tragedy,” Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain wrote on Twitter, describing Ms. Cox as “a committed and caring M.P.” and “a great star.” He said, “It’s right that we’re suspending campaigning activity in this referendum.”

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, wrote on Twitter: “The whole of the Labour family, and indeed the whole country, is in shock and grief at the horrific murder of Jo Cox.”

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Ms. Cox, like most other Labour politicians, supported Britain’s continued membership in the European Union. In her maiden speech in Parliament last year, she spoke of the diversity of her district, which includes Irish Catholics and Indian Muslims. “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us,” she said.


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Speaking in Parliament on Nov. 26, the British lawmaker insisted that the country give a “diplomatic priority” to the Syrian conflict.

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Last week, she wrote on Twitter: “Immigration is a legitimate concern, but it’s not a good reason to leave the E.U.” On Wednesday, her husband, Brendan Cox, took part in a joust between prominent campaigners from both sides, an event nicknamed the Battle of the Thames.

Mr. Cox issued a statement on Thursday evening, saying: “Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.”

In Birstall, where the last census recorded nearly 17,000 residents, the police cordoned off the area around Market Street, where the attack took place.

The police were summoned at 12:53 p.m., and found Ms. Cox with severe injuries. She was taken by an air ambulance to Leeds General Infirmary, where paramedics tried to save her. A doctor pronounced her death at 1:48 p.m., Dee Collins, temporary chief constable of the West Yorkshire Police, said at a news conference.

Constable Collins said that several weapons, including a gun, had been recovered from the scene and were being analyzed. “This is a very significant investigation, with large numbers of witnesses that have been spoken to by the police at this time,” she said, adding, “We are not in a position to discuss any motive at this time.”

Speaking at the same news conference, Mark Burns-Williamson, the police and crime commissioner for West Yorkshire, described the crime as “a localized incident, albeit one that has a much wider impact.”

The BBC quoted an witness, Hithem Ben Abdallah, 56, who was in a cafe next door to the library when the attack occurred, as saying he heard screaming and went outside. “There was a guy who was being very brave and another guy with a white baseball cap who he was trying to control and the man in the baseball cap suddenly pulled a gun from his bag,” Mr. Ben Abdallah said.

Ms. Cox was shot while trying to intervene, he said. His account could not be independently verified.

In a phone interview, Sanjeev Kumar, an employee at the Kwik Save store on Low Lane, near the library where Ms. Cox was meeting constituents, said he had seen the victim lying on the ground after her attacker fled.


Police Describe Arrest in Cox Attack

Dee Collins, the temporary chief constable of the West Yorkshire Police, said on Thursday that a man has been arrested after killing Jo Cox, a member of Britain's Parliament, and injuring another man.

By SKY, VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS on Publish Date June 16, 2016. . Watch in Times Video »

“She was lying on the floor and two girls were helping her,” Mr. Kumar said. “She was bleeding from the mouth and nose — the ambulance was on its way. She couldn’t talk, or move, or do anything. It looked serious.”

Mr. Kumar said the attack was a the sort of incident that “never, never happened here.”

John Rattigan, who works at the hospital where Ms. Cox died, said in an interview over email that he was leaving work when “armed police officers burst through the doors followed by an ambulance crew and trolley with a patient who had a serious head injury.”

He was stunned to learn that the patient was his local representative, and drove home in a state of shock.

“She was a Socialist, like myself, and always championed the cause of women, the disabled, immigrants, Syria, Palestine and other repressed groups,” he said. “She was also a very popular visitor to local primary schools and joined-in classroom activities: making time to engage the young children.”

The police said they were not looking for any other suspects besides the man in custody. News images showed the police tackling a man in a gray T-shirt and black pants after the attack, and a house in the area was searched.

Ms. Cox was elected to Parliament in May 2015 to represent Batley and Spen, a generally safe Labour seat. The constituency has a large number of retirees and a substantial population of South Asian origin.

Ms. Cox’s colleagues have described her as an eloquent and effective lawmaker. She was due to celebrate her 42nd birthday next Wednesday, and had been spoken of as a potential future minister.

According to the biography on her personal website, Ms. Cox was born and raised around Dewsbury, England. She graduated from Cambridge in 1995, the first in her family to complete university.

Ms. Cox was involved in pro-European causes. She was an aide to Joan Walley, a British member of Parliament who supported European integration, and to Glenys Kinnock, a former Labour member of the European Parliament.

Jo Cox, who represented the West Yorkshire area of Batley and Spen in British Parliament. Credit Yui Mok/Press Association, via Associated Press

She also worked with Oxfam, the anti-hunger charity; with Sarah Brown, wife of the former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, to reduce child and infant mortality; and with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to combat modern slavery. She was married with two children, and lived part of the time on a boat on the Thames.

Ms. Cox abstained in a contentious vote last fall on British military action in Syria, insisting that a broader attempt at resolving the five-year-old civil war was needed.

“I met her before she became an M.P. and helped her when she got chosen as a candidate,” said Mr. Hamilton, the member of Parliament. “I’ve been friendly with her since. She’s an expert in international causes, gave lots of speeches in Parliament about international causes like Syria. We also both have a passion for cycling, so we have a lot in common.”

The campaigns representing the two sides in next week’s European Union referendum — Britain Stronger in Europe, which favors remaining in the European Union, and Vote Leave, which advocates departure from the 28-nation bloc — halted their campaigning. Opponent of Britain’s departure said they would suspend their campaign until the weekend.

Mr. Cameron, the prime minister, called off plans for a trip to Gibraltar, the British overseas territory that borders Spain, where he had planned to rally residents to vote to remain in the bloc.

The killing of Ms. Cox triggered an outpouring on Twitter by politicians, past and present. Although no member of Parliament has been assassinated since 1990, there have been two attacks on lawmakers meeting constituents, as Ms. Cox was doing.

In January 2000, a mentally ill man attacked a Liberal Democratic lawmaker, Nigel Jones of Cheltenham, with a samurai sword, killing an aide to Mr. Jones.

In September 2010, Stephen Timms, a Labour member of Parliament for the East Ham district in London, was stabbed and critically injured by an Islamist extremist who was angered by his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Gabrielle Giffords, a former member of Congress who survived an assassination attempt in 2011 by a deranged gunman who killed six other people, wrote on Twitter that she was “absolutely sickened to hear of the assassination of Jo Cox.” Ms. Giffords added: “She was young, courageous, and hardworking. A rising star, mother, and wife.”

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