LONDON -- A suspected bomber who died when his homemade device exploded in a taxi outside a Liverpool hospital was an asylum-seeker from the Middle East who had converted from Islam to Christianity, British police, church officials and others said Tuesday.
Police said 32-year-old Emad Al Swealmeen was killed when a blast ripped through the vehicle as it pulled up outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital on Sunday morning. The taxi driver was injured.
Police have called the blast a terrorist act and believe the dead man built the bomb, but they are still working to determine his motive, how the attack was planned and whether anyone else was involved.
Four men in their 20s who had been detained under the Terrorism Act as part of the investigation were released late Monday. Russ Jackson, the head of counterterrorism policing for northwest England, said “following interviews with the arrested men, we are satisfied with the accounts they have provided and they have been released from police custody.”
Jackson said police now had “a much greater understanding of the component parts of the device, how they were obtained and how the parts are likely to have been assembled.” But he said “there is a considerable way to go to understand how this incident was planned, prepared for and how it happened.”
Security Minister Damian Hinds said police needed “time and space” to investigate.
“There’s always the possibility that further links can be detected," Hinds told the BBC. “People sometimes talk about lone wolves and so on -- people are rarely totally alone because they talk to others and so on.”
The Times of London said Al Swealmeen — who also used the name Enzo Almeni — claimed to be of Syrian and Iraqi background and had applied for asylum in Britain in 2014, but was rejected. It's unclear what his legal status was at the time of the bombing.
Liverpool couple Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott told British media that Al Swealmeen had spent time in a psychiatric hospital several years ago and stayed with them for eight months after his release. The couple said Al Swealmeen was interested in Christianity and converted to the faith.
“We’re just so, so sad,” Elizabeth HItchcott told the BBC. “We just loved him. He was a lovely guy.”
A spokesman for Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral said Al Swealmeen was baptised there in 2015 and confirmed in 2017, but lost contact with the cathedral in 2018.
“Like so many, I have been shocked and saddened by the bombing in Liverpool and the revelation that the bomber was part of the cathedral community for a while," said Bishop Cyril Ashton, who conducted the confirmation.
The taxi driver, David Perry, escaped from the vehicle before it was engulfed in flames. He was treated in a hospital and released.
Britain’s official threat level was raised from substantial to severe — meaning an attack is highly likely — following the blast, the U.K.’s second fatal incident in a month. Conservative lawmaker David Amess was stabbed to death in October in what police said was an act of terrorism.