The suspected Liverpool bomber packed his homemade explosive device with ball bearings to cause maximum deaths and injuries, police have said.
Emad al-Swealmeen, 32, died on Sunday when a taxi he had hired drove to Liverpool Women’s hospital and exploded outside the entrance.
An intensive investigation by counter-terrorism police and MI5 leaves investigators currently believing:
Swealmeen bought items for the homemade bomb in person from stores around Liverpool over a period of months.
He also had multiple phones and devices and used those to purchase items for the explosive device online.
Part of the device contained the homemade explosive HMTD, used in some previous devices such as that used in the 7 July 2005 bombs to attack the London transport system. It is believed other homemade explosives were also in the device.
Swealmeen, who had claimed asylum after arriving in the UK, had shown signs he was following his birth religion of Islam again, after going through ceremonies to convert to Christianity in 2015 and 2017.
He used his birth name as well as the name he took on converting to Christianity, Enzo Almeni, and other aliases to make the purchases needed to construct the improvised explosive device.
Police said it was possible the homemade bomb exploded because of “the movement of the vehicle or its stopping”, and thus before Swealmeen had intended it to detonate.
The explosion was declared a terrorist incident but more than five days later, police cannot say what ideology or cause spurred the attack.
It is highly unusual to find no evidence of ideology after several days of a terrorism investigation. But the nature of the device, with ball bearings meant to turn into shrapnel, is seen as a clear sign of murderous intent.
Relatives of Swealmeen, originally from the Middle East, have been tracked down by investigators and have given details of his life, as have other people who knew him.
Russ Jackson, an assistant chief constable and head of counter-terrorism police in the north-west, said: “Officers spoke with the brother of al-Swealmeen yesterday evening [Thursday] and this has given us an insight into his early years and an understanding of al-Swealmeen’s life and his recent state of mind, which is an important line of investigation.”
Jackson said examination of what was left in the cab and of two Liverpool addresses linked to Swealmeen had started to give police clues about the nature of the bomb and how it was put together. Jackson said: “It was made using homemade explosive and had ball bearings attached to it which would have acted as shrapnel. Had it detonated in different circumstances we believe it would have caused significant injury or death.”
Investigators are not certain about the target, but lean towards it being the maternity hospital rather than a Remembrance Day event under a mile from where the cab stopped just before 11am.
Jackson said: “We still do not know how or why the device exploded when it did, but we are not discounting it being completely unintentional, and it is a possibility that the movement of the vehicle or its stopping caused the ignition. We are spending considerable time seeking to understand the way the purchases for the ingredients to make the device were made. This is complicated because purchases have spanned many months and al-Swealmeen has used many aliases.”
So far police have found no evidence that anyone else was involved. Four men who were arrested by counter-terrorism detectives have been eliminated as suspects.
The explosion and revelations that someone had been plotting since April to attack the north-west caused anxiety in the region, where in 2017 the Manchester Arena bombing killed 22 people. Jackson tried to provide reassurance: “We have found no connection between this incident and the terrible events of Manchester in May 2017. The device was also different to the one used in the Manchester Arena attack.”
Police have said Swealmeen experienced episodes of mental ill-health and they were still trying to understand what part this played in the attack.
The taxi driver who drove Swealmeen fled the cab after the device detonated.
The explosion, the second incident to be declared one of terrorism in a month after the killing of the MP Sir David Amess, led to the UK’s terrorism threat level being raised to severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.