UK police name suspected Liverpool suicide bomber, may have targeted Cathedral

Authorities believe 32-year-old Emad Al Swealmeen built device; reports say he had converted to Christianity and previously been arrested with large knife after failed asylum bid

Police forensics officers working outside the Women's Hospital in Liverpool on November 15, 2021, the scene of a taxi explosion a day earlier. (Paul ELLIS / AFP)
Police forensics officers working outside the Women's Hospital in Liverpool on November 15, 2021, the scene of a taxi explosion a day earlier. (Paul ELLIS / AFP)

Britain raised its terrorism threat level Monday, hours after an explosion outside a hospital in Liverpool, as police named the suspected suicide bomber believed to have made the homemade device before dying in the blast.

Interior minister Priti Patel said intelligence officials had increased the threat assessment to “severe” — the second-highest level, meaning an attack is highly likely — following the second terror incident in a month.

Last month, veteran British MP David Amess was stabbed to death as he met constituents in southeast England, in an attack that prosecutors have said had a “terrorist connection.”

The blast outside the Liverpool Women’s Hospital shortly before midday on Remembrance Sunday destroyed a taxi and killed the passenger suspected of making the crude device, but only injured the driver.

Police in northwest England said within hours that the blast was being treated as a “terrorist incident” and on Monday evening named the deceased suspect.

“Our inquiries are very much ongoing but at this stage we strongly believe that the deceased is 32-year-old Emad Al Swealmeen,” senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Meeks said in a statement.

A police officer stands guard near the scene of a car blast outside the Women’s Hospital in Liverpool on November 15, 2021. (Paul ELLIS / AFP)

He gave few other details, but noted Al Swealmeen was connected to two addresses police raided following the incident, living at one while recently renting another where officers have recovered “significant items.”

“We continue to appeal for any information about this incident and, now that we have released his name, any information that the public may have about Al Swealmeen, no matter how small, may be of great assistance to us,” Meeks said.

The UK’s Daily Mail reported that Al Swealmeen had arrived in the UK from Iraq several years ago and converted from Islam to Christianity in 2017 at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral.

The explosion came just minutes before the Remembrance Sunday service at nearby Cathedral, prompting speculation the event was the intended target.

The Mail said that after arriving in the UK, Al Swealmeen — who has a Syrian father and an Iraqi mother and is believed to have spent a large part of his life in Iraq —  changed his name to Enzo Almeni.

Al Swealmeen had an asylum claim rejected in 2014, after which he was “arrested for possession of a “large knife.” He was later hospitalized for several months under the Mental Health Act.

Since then, he had spent much of his time in Liverpool being supported by Christian volunteers who aid asylum seekers, including eight months living with two of the volunteers in their home. In 2017, he converted to Christianity, the paper reported, adding that he worked as a pizza chef.

Controlled explosion

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the latest attack was a “stark reminder of the need for us all to remain utterly vigilant.”

“But what yesterday showed us all is that the British people will never be cowed by terrorism. We will never give in to those who seek to divide us with senseless acts,” Johnson said.

Earlier Monday, Russ Jackson, in charge of counter-terrorism policing in northwest England, said the motive for the attack was unclear.

He confirmed the device that ignited and turned the taxi into a fireball was built by Al Swealmeen after he was picked up in the Kensington neighborhood of the city.

Head of Counterterrorism Policing North West Russ Jackson, left and Merseyside Police Chief Constable Serena Kennedy take part in a press conference after an incident outside the Liverpool Women’s Hospital on Sunday, at Merseyside Police Headquarters, in Liverpool, England, November 15, 2021. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

“We cannot at this time draw any connection with this, but it is a line of inquiry which we are pursuing,” said Jackson, refering to the Cathedral.

Three men aged 21, 26 and 29 were arrested under anti-terrorism laws in the nearby Kensington area soon after the explosion and remain in custody for questioning.

A fourth man, aged 20, was detained earlier Monday, Jackson said, adding that “significant items” had been found at a second address in Sefton Park, near Kensington.

On Monday afternoon, investigating officers carried out a controlled explosion “as a precaution” in Sefton Park.

Remarkable escape

The blast and fireball sent thick smoke into the air as Britain was about to fall silent in tribute to its war dead and military veterans.

There was prompt praise for the taxi driver, named locally as David Perry, following reports he locked the passenger inside the cab after growing suspicious about his intentions.

He was treated in hospital but released Monday, according to his wife, who posted on Facebook that it was “an utter miracle” he survived.

Emergency services outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital in Liverpool, England, November 14, 2021. (Peter Byrne/ PA via AP)

“There are a lot of rumors flying round about him being a hero and locking the passenger inside the car… but the truth of the matter is, he is without a doubt lucky to be alive,” she wrote.

Johnson, who convened a government emergencies and contingencies meeting in response, said it appeared the driver “did behave with incredible presence of mind and bravery.”

‘Substantial’ threat

Some 2,000 people attended the religious service of remembrance, one of the biggest outside London, and a military parade, according to the Liverpool Echo newspaper.

The scene at the hospital remained cordoned off on Monday, as did the streets around the two properties under investigation, where forensics officers in white suits were seen.

Britain had downgraded its terrorism threat level from “severe” to “substantial” in February.

An armed police officer holds a breaching shotgun, used to blast the hinges off a door, at an address in Rutland Avenue in Sefton Park, after an explosion at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital in Liverpool, England, November 15, 2021. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

It had been raised last November after a deadly shooting rampage in Vienna and several attacks in France. All were blamed on Islamist extremists.

Meanwhile, Ali Harbi Ali, the 25-year-old accused of murdering David Amess last month as he met constituents in Leigh-on-Sea, east of the capital, will go on trial next year.

Prosecutors have said the murder “has a terrorist connection” with “religious and ideological motivations.”

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