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Emad Al Swealmeen: the motivation for Liverpool taxi bomb examined

Suspected terrorist converted to Christianity at cathedral close to attack on Sunday

The suspected terrorist who appeared to blow himself up outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital on Remembrance Sunday has been named as 32-year-old Emad Al Swealmeen. 

Officers from Counter Terrorism Policing North West have said that they “strongly believe” Al Swealmeen was the passenger who was proclaimed dead at the scene when the taxi he was in exploded

The driver, named locally as David Perry, managed to escape before the vehicle burst into flames at a drop-off zone near the hospital’s entrance. It was claimed that Perry, who has been heralded as a hero, locked Al Swealmeen in the cab before it exploded. 

Al Swealmeen is thought to have had Syrian and Iraqi heritage. According to MailOnline, he was taken in by Christian volunteers in Liverpool after moving to the UK from the Middle East. He is understood to be a Jordanian national who spent much of his life in Iraq.

Link to Liverpool Cathedral

The Mail said Al Swealmeen converted to Christianity from Islam “by at least March 2017”. 

His conversion ceremony is believed to have taken place at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, which is close to the attack and where a thousands-strong Remembrance Sunday service was taking place.

Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral

Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

The Times said police had not ruled out that Al Swealmeen “was inspired by an Islamic State attack in Afghanistan on the maternity ward of Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in Kabul, which left 24 people dead”, but they are also investigating whether he might have intended to attack the nearby cathedral rather than the hospital.

In a press conference on Monday morning, Russ Jackson, head of Counter Terrorism Policing North West, said investigators were aware that the Remembrance Sunday events were taking place “just a short distance away” and that the “ignition occurred shortly before 11am”. However, police had not yet drawn a connection between the two.

Ferrari-inspired name change

Local sources told MailOnline that Al Swealmeen changed his name by deed poll to Enzo Almeni in honour of Enzo Ferrari – the Italian race car driver – and in a bid to sound “more Western on his asylum application” to stay in the UK. 

Al Swealmeen spent eight months living with Christian volunteers Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott in the Aigburth district of Liverpool. 

Malcolm Hitchcott, a retired senior British Army soldier, told MailOnline that Al Swealmeen took an Alpha course, “which explains the Christian faith” and then was “confirmed as a Christian” shortly afterwards. “He was destitute at that time and we took him in,” he added. 

‘What a waste of a life’

Speaking to ITV News, Elizabeth Hitchcott said that she and her husband lived “cheek by jowl” with Al Swealmeen when he was staying with them. 

“What a waste of a life,” she said, adding “but the one thing I suppose to be thankful for is that he did not kill anyone else”.

Malcolm Hitchcott said that Al Swealmeen had been refused asylum in 2014 by the UK. After his case was rejected, he was arrested for trying to kill himself in central Liverpool while in possession of what MailOnline described as a “large knife”. 

Al Swealmeen reapplied for asylum in 2017, said The Times, but his immigration status at the time of his death was unclear.

The 2014 arrest resulted in Al Swealmeen being sectioned and hospitalised under the Mental Health Act, MailOnline reported. Security sources told the news site that Al Swealmeen’s mental health problems were a “key line of inquiry” as his exact motivation is identified. 

Questions over conversion

According to The Times, Facebook photos show the Hitchcotts experiencing the sights of Liverpool with Al Swealmeen, including the grade I listed Tudor manor house Speke Hall.

Another photo shows Al Swealmeen and Malcolm Hitchcott at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral with Hitchcott’s caption reading: “Last night in Liverpool Cathedral. A very special night for two young men.”

But associates who spoke to The Times told the paper that they believed Al Swealmeen was only interested in converting to Christianity “because he believed it would assist his asylum claim”. 

Liverpool Women’s Hospital

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Threat level raised to ‘severe’

Four men (aged 20, 21, 26 and 29) were arrested under terrorism laws and then released without charge.

The UK’s national threat level was raised from substantial to severe on Monday following Sunday’s attack, meaning an attack is “highly likely”. 

“The decision has been driven by two terrorist incidents in the past month, reflecting the diverse, complex and volatile nature of the terrorist threat in the UK,” said a Home Office statement on the government’s website.

The incident came exactly one month after Conservative MP David Amess was fatally stabbed at his constituency surgery in Essex. 

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