Liverpool taxi bomber 'exploited UK's dysfunctional asylum system'

Home Secretary Priti Patel vows to overhaul process after attack by Emad Al Swealmeen

The Liverpool bomber took advantage of the UK’s “merry-go-round” asylum system, Home Secretary Priti Patel said as she vowed to bring in changes.

Her comments came after reports suggested Emad Al Swealmeen, 32, the man who died in the Liverpool Women’s Hospital explosion, was a failed asylum seeker who arrived in Britain from Iraq in 2013.

He is understood to have applied to remain in the UK upon his arrival but his application was rejected in 2014.

In the following years he submitted several appeals and was awaiting the decision of his latest attempt when he was killed in the taxi blast shortly before 11am on Remembrance Sunday.

Speaking on a flight to Washington, DC on Tuesday, Ms Patel appeared to confirm reports the suspected bomber was a failed asylum seeker as she pledged to overhaul the asylum system.

“The case in Liverpool was a complete reflection of how dysfunctional, how broken the system has been in the past and why I want to bring changes forward,” she said.

“It's a complete merry-go-round and it's been exploited by a whole professional legal services industry, which has based itself on rights of appeal, going to the courts day in, day out on legal aid at the expense of the taxpayers."

Al Swealmeen had approached his local MP as he tried to secure status from the Home Office to remain in the UK, The Guardian reported.

He contacted the office of Paula Barker, Labour MP for Wavertee, last year. His latest rejection from the Home Office is understood to have been issued in December 2020.

Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson, Head of Counter Terrorism Policing North West, gave an update on the investigation on Wednesday morning, confirming the suspect was born in Iraq.

He said officers believe he had been buying parts for the bomb since April.

A post-mortem examination concluded he died as a result of injuries sustained in the blast and fire that followed.

“The taxi in which the device exploded has now been removed and today line searches by specialist officers will take place at the hospital, which could go into tomorrow,” Mr Jackson said.

“A complex picture is emerging over the purchases of the component parts of the device, we know that Al Swealmeen rented the property from April this year and we believe relevant purchases have been made at least since that time.

“We have now traced a next of kin for Al Swealmeen, who has informed us that he was born in Iraq.

“Our enquiries have found that Al Swealmeen has had episodes of mental illness, this will form part of the investigation and will take some time to fully understand.”

He went on to urge anyone who knew the suspected bomber in recent months or years to come forward with any information that could assist police with their investigation.

Mr Jackson said so far officers have not linked him to anyone in the Merseyside area of Liverpool, but said: “This remains a fast-moving investigation and as more becomes known we cannot rule out action against others.”

In light of the bombing, the Church of England has come under fire for the way it helps asylum seekers navigate the UK system.

A Home Office representative told The Telegraph they believe switching faiths has become “standard practice” among asylum seekers from countries, including Iraq, “to game the asylum system”.

Converts to Christianity can claim they will be at risk of persecution if they return to their homeland.

Al Swealmeen was carrying a home-made explosive device that he assembled in the back of a taxi, police said.

Counterterrorism officers investigating the incident, in which taxi driver David Perry was injured, say they are investigating a possible link to a Remembrance Day service at Liverpool Cathedral, attended by hundreds of military personnel and their families.

Mr Perry, who escaped the vehicle after the blast, suffered injuries and was treated in hospital.

A security guard at the hospital who witnessed the blast and dashed to Mr Perry’s aide described how blood was oozing from the driver’s ear and neck as he fled the burning vehicle, screaming “I want my wife”.

Darren Knowles, 50, saw blood oozing from Mr Perry's ear and neck as he fled the burning vehicle.

“I heard a loud bang and thought it was mechanical failure in the taxi. I thought the engine had caught fire,” Mr Knowles told The Mirror.

“But then I saw the taxi driver run out. He was panicking and screaming, ‘Someone has blown me up’.”

Mr Knowles described the bomb victim as “disoriented and confused” and said he told him there was a passenger in the burning vehicle.

“He was trying to tell us, ‘There is a passenger, there is a passenger,’” he continued.

“I was trying to say to him, ‘Is he still in there,’ and he was saying ‘He has tried to blow me up, he has tried to blow me up.”

Mr Perry has since been discharged from hospital.

Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the UK’s International Trade Secretary, said Ms Patel was determined to usher in changes that will prioritise genuine asylum seekers.

Ms Trevelyan said the process to secure asylum in Britain “had historically been dysfunctional” and needed fixing.

“I want to see a system that works to make sure that those who are most vulnerable and who indeed want to come here and be a fully functioning part of UK society are able to get here safely, not being abused by those gangs who are taking advantage of their vulnerability,” Ms Trevelyan said.

Turning to the issue of illegal migration, Ms Trevelyan said the government was determined to prevent gangs from “moving people around and abusing their vulnerability”.

A Christian convert, Al Swealmeen was confirmed in the faith by Church of England bishop Cyril Ashton at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral in 2017, having been baptised in 2015.

A representative for the cathedral said he fell out of contact with the cathedral community in 2018.

Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott took the suspected bomber into their home in 2017 and said he displayed a deep appreciation for his new faith.

Mr Hitchcott said on Tuesday that Al Swealmeen first contacted the couple after one of his asylum appeals was dismissed and he was desperate for somewhere to stay.

Al Swealmeen arrived on April 1, 2017, he told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"He was with us then for eight months, and during that time we saw him really blossoming in regards to his Christian faith," Mr Hitchcott said.

"He really had a passion about Jesus that I wish many Christians had and he was ready to learn.

"He was keen on reading his Bible and every night we used to pray – my wife and him, and if there was anybody else in the house."

They had "a great time together", Mr Hitchcott said.

"He was absolutely genuine, as far as I could tell. When you live with somebody in a small terraced house ... you learn an awful lot about people and how their habits are, how they relate to one another, the things they think about – it's a good assessing ground," he said.

"I was in no doubt by the time that he left us at the end of that eight months that he was a Christian."

Here was a chap who was very calm, measured, very deep thinking, but a lovely man with it
Malcolm Hitchcott

Mr Hitchcott said motor-racing fan Al Swealmeen changed his name to Enzo Almeni, after the renowned motorsport figure Enzo Ferrari, to shorten it and "make it more European", and "not for any ulterior motive".

Describing the moment he found out what had happened, he told the BBC he was "absolutely stunned".

"Here was a chap who was very calm, measured, very deep thinking, but a lovely man with it," Mr Hitchcott said.

"I only saw him lose his temper once, which is when he thought I was tampering with his mail, but he apologised for that fairly soon afterwards.

"He was a lovely fellow. You would say he wouldn't harm a fly but he is the sort of chap who considers things deeply first ... he was a pleasure to be with."

Mr Hitchcott said he had not spoken to Al Swealmeen in four years and there may have been "changes in his personality and his beliefs" during that time.

Al Swealmeen went off grid in 2017

An asylum-seeker charity said it had helped Al Swealmeen between 2014 and 2017.

"We kind of lost sight of him around 2017," Ewan Roberts, centre manager at Asylum Link, told Sky News.

"[Al Swealmeen asked] not for unusual things, not for strange things; things people normally ask for in the asylum system – clothing, help with support and help to find a solicitor."

He had tried to lodge an appeal with the Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber after he lost his asylum claim, and an appeal against the decision in a lower court, the BBC reported.

But this attempted appeal was refused without it ever going to a full hearing. It is not known whether he was warned he would be removed from the UK.

The Home Office said it did not comment on individual cases.

Counterterrorism police make two arrests in London

The incident has been declared a terrorist attack and the UK terrorism threat level has since been raised from substantial to severe, meaning an attack is highly likely rather than likely.

Under this new level, two young men were arrested in west London on Tuesday by the Met's Counter-Terrorism Command unit.

The force said the men, aged 19 and 21, were detained on Tuesday morning and were being held in custody while officers continued to search addresses in the area.

Commander Richard Smith of the Counter-Terrorism Command said police did not believe there was an immediate threat to the wider public, and urged anyone who may have seen suspicious activity to report it.

"Based on inquiries by detectives so far, there was not believed to be any immediate threat posed to the public and those arrested remain in custody," Mr Smith said.

"We are all aware that the UK national threat level has been raised from substantial to severe following events in Merseyside and we need to work together to defeat terrorism."

He urged the public to report any suspicious activity to the police.

"Every day, teams within the Met and across Counter Terrorism policing nationally proactively investigate, identify and target those we suspect of being involved in terrorism," he said.

"If you see or hear something in the course of your everyday life that doesn't seem right, please trust your instincts and report it ... your information could be the key to stopping terrorist activity."

The arrests were not linked to the Liverpool Women's Hospital blast, police said.

Updated: November 18th 2021, 10:17 AM