Liverpool bomb attack: Emad Al Swealmeen identified as suspect in taxi explosion

Police believe the passenger, who died in the blast, made the device and carried it into taxi before detonating

Police ‘strongly believe’ that Emad Al Swealmeen, who was also known as Enzo Almeni, blew himself up outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital. Malcolm Hitchcott / Facebook
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Police investigating Sunday's fatal explosion in a taxi outside Liverpool Women's Hospital, north-west England, have identified Emad Al Swealmeen, 32, as the man who died the blast.

The dead man, who was also known as Enzo Almeni, is the chief suspect of the bombing, which is being investigated under UK counterterrorism laws.

"Al Swealmeen is connected to both the Rutland Avenue and Sutcliffe Street addresses where searches are still ongoing," said Det Chief Insp Andrew Meeks, of Counter Terrorism Policing North West.

"We believe he lived at the Sutcliffe Street address for some time and had recently rented the Rutland Avenue address.

"Our focus is the Rutland Avenue address where we have continued to recover 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."

Al Swealmeen, of Syrian and Iraqi heritage, arrived in Britain as an asylum seeker several years ago and worked as a pizza chef.

He converted from Islam to Christianity and was confirmed in the faith by the Rt Rev Cyril Ashton at Liverpool Cathedral in 2017.

He is reported to have suffered from mental health problems and was once arrested for brandishing a knife.

A police cordon remained in Rutland Avenue on Tuesday morning as officers continued to search a property. Al Swealmeen reportedly rented a property in the street a few months ago.

Christian volunteers Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott said they had briefly taken him in to live in their home in Liverpool and were shocked at what had happened, saying he had given no clues of radicalisation.

“We’re just so, so sad. We just loved him, he was a lovely guy,” Mrs Hitchcott told the BBC.

An emotional Mr Hitchcott described Al Swealmeen as a “very quiet fellow”. “What a waste of a life. But the one thing I suppose to be thankful for is that he did not kill anyone else,” he said.

Damian Hinds, the UK’s Security Secretary, told Sky News on Tuesday that the possibility of terrorist attacks in Britain remains.

Asked whether the public should be worried about more incidents, he said they should be vigilant.

“You should be concerned, of course,” he said.

“We use the term ‘lone wolf’ a lot but it can be a little misleading because it gives a certain picture of an individual.

“But it certainly is true that we’ve seen a move over time, a shift from what we call 'directed attacks', you know, part of a bigger organisation where people are following instructions, sometimes quite complex in their organisation, a move from that to more self-directed, self-radicalised individuals or small groups.”

Mr Hinds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the government wants people to be “alert, not alarmed” about potential terrorist attacks.

He said “if you see something that’s not right, if you see something that’s suspicious, please, please report it”.

Footage from Liverpool Women’s Hospital showed the blast ripping through a taxi as it pulled up outside, with the driver, David Perry, leaping out and running for cover. He was treated for injuries before being released from hospital.

His wife, Rachel, said he was “lucky to be alive” and called it “an utter miracle” that he had escaped without serious injury.

In a Facebook post, she said he was "extremely sore and just trying to process what's happened".

"The explosion happened whilst he was in the car and how he managed to escape is an utter miracle," she wrote.

"He certainly had some guardian angels looking after him."

Earlier on Monday, Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson, head of Counter-Terrorism Policing North West, said the man was picked up in the Rutland Avenue area in the south-west of the city and had “asked to be taken to Liverpool Women’s Hospital”.

Mr Jackson said officers believed the blast was caused by the “ignition of an explosive device” activated by the passenger.

“Our inquiries indicate that an improvised explosive device has been manufactured and our assumption so far is that it was built by the passenger in the taxi," he said.

“Although the motivation for this incident is yet to be understood, given all the circumstances it has been declared a terrorist incident."

A Remembrance Sunday service was due to be held at the city's Anglican Cathedral less than a kilometre from the hospital, with about 1,200 military personnel, veterans and relatives of fallen soldiers in attendance.

Mr Jackson said officers could not “draw any connection” between the incident, which happened before the two minutes' silence at 11am, and the service.

"It is a line of inquiry we are pursuing," he said.

Earlier, friends of Mr Perry suggested that he helped to thwart a disaster by trapping the passenger in the taxi.

Joanne Anderson, mayor of Liverpool, praised him for his actions and said he "stood out and locked the doors" to avert what could have been an “absolutely awful disaster”.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised Mr Perry for acting with “incredible presence of mind and bravery”.

Police cordons remained in place at the hospital as officers continued to investigate the explosion.

On Sunday, Counter-Terrorism Policing North West said three men – aged 29, 26 and 21 – were detained in the Kensington area of the city and arrested under the Terrorism Act.

They said the force would continue to keep an open mind about the cause of the explosion and was working closely with Merseyside Police.

A fourth man was detained on Monday in connection with the bombing.

All four have since been released from police custody after interview, Counter Terrorism Policing North West said late on Monday.

It has been reported that MI5, the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency, was assisting the investigation.

"So far, we understand that the car involved was a taxi, which pulled up at the hospital shortly before the explosion occurred," a Merseyside Police spokesman said.

"Work is still going on to establish what has happened and could take some time before we are in a position to confirm anything.

"Our response is ongoing at the hospital and will be for some time. Cordons are in place and there are some road closures."

Ms Anderson declined to speculate on reports suggesting the taxi was bound for the Remembrance Day service but she said the driver had acted heroically.

“We knew that the taxi driver had stood out and locked the doors, we knew that early on," she said.

“Obviously, the taxi driver in his heroic efforts has managed to divert what could have been an absolutely awful disaster at the hospital. Our thanks go to him.

“And our emergency services and authorities have worked through the night to divert anything further, and we’ve all been on standby and in constant contact to provide any support that’s needed.”

Images of a vehicle on fire at the scene, and later burnt out, have been shared online. Footage of an explosion and billowing smoke outside the hospital was also shared.

Nick Aldworth, the former UK counterterrorism co-ordinator, said pictures from the scene showed “very little blast damage” to the taxi, suggesting the explosive device may have failed to detonate fully.

Mr Aldworth, who had a 36-year career in policing and the military, said officers would compare data on any suspects with details held by MI5, which holds different information to the police.

“I have to say, from what I’ve seen, there’s very little blast damage. There’s obviously a lot of fire damage but very little blast damage,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

“And so, whatever was in that vehicle was either a low yield or didn’t work properly, or possibly an incendiary.”

Mr Aldworth said he had no doubt the attack was carried out with “significant timing”.

Speaking before police declared it a terrorist incident, he said it was common for police to link an investigation to terrorism in the early stages to bolster their resources.

He said investigating officers could scale back their investigation if and when it became clear the incident was not related to terrorism, which was much easier than bolstering their operations.

Al Swealmeen is connected to both the Rutland Avenue and Sutcliffe Street addresses where searches are still ongoing
Oliver Dowden, Conservative Party chairman

“It makes sense to create a terrorism investigation to start with because that then allows you to have a large operation with access to more resources you might not normally have, for example the intelligence services,” Mr Aldworth said.

Liverpool Women's Hospital said access was restricted for visitors "until further notice", with patients diverted to other hospitals "where possible".

"We are reviewing our patient activity for the next 24 to 48 hours and patients should wait to be contacted for updates about any planned appointments or other attendance at the hospital," it said.

"Our staff are being permitted to leave and enter the hospital under the supervision of Merseyside Police.

"We would like to say thank you for the co-operation and support of our patients, visitors and staff who have been impacted by this incident, in particular those members of staff who were at the scene at the time of the incident."

Oliver Dowden, chairman of the UK's ruling Conservative Party, said the actions of Mr Perry were testament to the “bravery of ordinary Britons”.

"Al Swealmeen is connected to both the Rutland Avenue and Sutcliffe Street addresses where searches are still ongoing. Who put other people’s lives before their own?” he said on Sky News.

“Clearly we’ll have to see exactly what happened but if that is the case it is another example of true bravery and courage.

“It is a reminder to us all that the threat of terrorism hasn’t gone away and how much we depend on our police and security services."

Mr Dowden said UK Home Secretary Priti Patel would be briefed on the investigation.

Phil Garrigan, chief fire officer of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, said the car fire at the hospital was "fully developed" when two engines arrived shortly after 11am.

Liverpool Women's Hospital taxi explosion - in pictures

Updated: November 16, 2021, 10:30 AM