The suspected terrorist who detonated a homemade bomb outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital was a Formula 1 fanatic who had converted to Christianity after moving to the UK.
Emad Al Swealmeen arrived from Iraq several years ago and converted from Islam in 2017 at the city’s Anglican Cathedral where he is understood to have been targeting.
He reportedly used an IED dubbed ‘Mother of Satan’ due to its volatility.
The same type of bomb was previously used in the 2015 Paris attacks, the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017 and failed Parsons Green Underground attack the same year.
The device which killed the 32-year-old in a taxi on Sunday morning contained homemade TATP explosives and acetone peroxide – a white crystalline powder which smells like bleach, a security source told the Times.
Other sources said that 400g of the explosives had failed to detonate when the bomb went off.
The type of explosive used by Al Swealmeen has been popular with ISIS for years, with the bomber having been part of an Islamist plot reportedly a distinct possibility.
It is also feared the type of bomb he used could indicate that an al-Qaeda cell was involved, as the UKs terror threat alert was raised from substantial to severe – meaning another attack is now "highly likely".
An Islamic State attack on the maternity ward of Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in Kabul in May 2020 could have inspired Sunday’s plan, it is claimed.
Colin Lane/Liverpool Echo)
However, investigators are yet to determine whether the Women’s Hospital was the initial intended target, amid reports Al Swealmeen had asked to be driven to the nearby cathedral where a Remembrance service was being held.
But Afghanistan bomb squad hero Kim Hughes said there could have been carnage if the bomb had detonated inside the hospital due to the tightly packed spaces and number of people.
Other terror experts fear he wanted to cause death and mayhem at the maternity hospital after traffic prevented him arriving at the cathedral.
But the device went off early saving countless lives.
While Mike Tapp, ex-intelligence officer told the Mirror the botched attack likely came from a more organised terrorist cell than a “lone wolf”.
“There are many unanswered questions, but the cell clearly had bombmaking skills and a radicalised suicide bomber,” he said.
“Some expertise may have been picked up abroad, possibly from al-Qaeda or ISIS, while targeting a hospital matches tactics
Mr Tapp said due to the timing and the fact a Remembrance Day service was taking place at the cathedral – it is “more likely that this extremist” was targeting there rather than the hospital.
A security source told the Times: “It remains possible that he was hoping to get another taxi to disguise his journey or was going to walk somewhere else — it is not definitive that the hospital was the target.”
Security officials now fear Christmas is under threat from lone wolf terror attacks, with spy chiefs admitting it is “highly likely” fanatics will attempt further atrocities.
Dr Dan Lomas, a lecturer in intelligence and security studies at Brunel University, said: "Someone who might not seem to pose a risk today, might suddenly decide to carry out an attack tomorrow."
Taxi driver David Perry was caught on CCTV leaping out of his taxi as the bomb exploded, and is reported to have locked the doors to prevent Al Swealmeen escaping.
One friend said David had heard the suspect "praying" moments before the blast. "That's when he knew he was in trouble," he said.
David miraculously survived with only minor injuries.
He appears to have been saved from fatal injury by a plastic anti-coronavirus screen that separated him from the passenger.
Friends said Al Swealmeen was a racing fan who changed his name by deed poll to Enzo Almeni in honour of Italian supercar creator Enzo Ferrari.
Since arriving in the UK, he had spent much of his time in Liverpool and was supported by Christian volunteers from various churches who aid asylum seekers.
He previously lived with devout Christians Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott at their home in the Aigburth area for eight months.
Ex-soldier Malcolm said Al Swealmeen had been refused asylum in 2014 – having arrived in the UK via Dubai the same year – after being sectioned for a mental health incident.
He then renewed his application in November 2017.
A year later he had met the couple after seeking to learn Christianity and was confirmed in March 2017.
Mrs Hitchcott told the Mirror: "It's so terribly sad. We just loved him. He was a lovely guy and we are so shocked. It's all too much."
The couple said he was born in Iraq where his mum came from. His father was from Syria. But added he never spoke about his time in either country or about Islam.
They said Al Swealmeen was a "quiet and well mannered" man who was also quite artistic.
Despite his mental health issues Mr Hitchcott added: "We are shocked because a less likely candidate you could not imagine.”
It is claimed he had a previous conviction for carrying a knife – but was not known to MI5.
The city’s Anglican Cathedral saw 1,200 military personnel, veterans and families of the fallen for the two-minute silence on the day of the attack.
Four people were arrested by police under the Terrorism Act but were released without charge last night.
Searches are under way at addresses on Rutland Avenue and Sutcliffe Street, where officers say Al Swealmeen previously lived at.
“Significant items” have been recovered, counter-terror police said.
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