On Sunday, at approximately 10:59am local time, 32-year-old Emad Al Swealmeen allegedly detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) in the backseat of a taxi near Liverpool Women’s Hospital in Liverpool, UK. The timing of the attack has prompted suspicions about a motive for the attempted attack; as it occurred on Remembrance Sunday, when services were being held across Britain in memory of those that served in the military, and just one minute before a national two minutes of silence was due to begin for the holiday in memory of those who lost their lives in battle. Authorities further reported that the incident occurred close to Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral, less than a mile away from the scene, where more than 2,000 people attended a Remembrance service. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Al Swealmeen may have asked his taxi driver, David Perry, to take him to the cathedral, but since there was heavy traffic, Al Swealmeen asked to go to the hospital instead. Although the motive of this incident is unclear, given the circumstances, it has been declared a terrorist attack.
Authorities say Al Swealmeen is a Syrian refugee who befriended and lived with a married Liverpool couple named Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott upon arriving in the UK. The Hitchcott’s reported that Al Swealmeen stayed in their home after his conversion to Christianity in 2017, in which he converted from Islam at a ceremony in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral, the same cathedral where reports suggested that he was going to carry out Sunday’s attack. The Hitchcott’s said in the years before the attack, Al Swealmeen had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act for six months due to his “behavior with a knife.” According to authorities, Al Swealmeen may have manufactured the IED in homes located on Rutland Avenue and Sutcliffe Street, located approximately 0.75 miles away from the hospital, where authorities are still examining evidence.
A spokesperson with MI5 reported that Al Swealmeen was previously unknown to the security service and other law enforcement agencies. Subsequently, on Sunday, officers announced the arrest of three unidentified suspects linked to Al Swealmeen, aged 21, 26 and 29, and the arrest of another unidentified 20-year-old suspect on Monday. According to reports, all suspects were charged under the Terrorism Act. Recent reports stated that the suspects were released from custody late Monday night with assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson stating, “Following interviews with the arrested men, we are satisfied with the accounts they have provided and they have been released from police custody.” Chief Jackson also stated that law enforcement now has a "much greater" understanding of the component parts of the IED, how they were obtained, and how they were likely assembled. Additionally, security minister Damian Hinds reported that there is the possibility that further links can be detected, such as lone wolf actors, but officials are “leaving time and space for the police to conduct their investigation.”
Police reported that the fire from the explosion was “fully developed” when officers arrived on the scene shortly after the first reports. Officials later stated that there was a great deal of fire damage, but very little blast damage, indicating that the IED was either a “low-yield,” did not work properly, or was possibly an improvised incendiary device (IID). According to an analysis provided by MSA Security subject matter experts (SMEs) following the review of open source video footage, several factors indicated the use of “a low explosive in the IED.” MSA bomb technicians reported that the taxi doors did not buckle, though the window blew out; white smoke emanated from the vehicle; flames occurred on the interior components of the vehicle only after the explosion; and the taxi driver was able to escape the incident with minor injuries, due to the protection of the vehicle back seat.
Officials believe that Al Swealmeen was likely unable to arrive at his intended target for the attack, and pivoted in order to strike opportunistically at the hospital entrance. This tactic highlights the importance for layered security and impediments at entrances of events, especially those that garner large crowds. Deterrents such as security checkpoints and physical security presence are critical in the mitigation of threats. Perry’s inability to travel closer to events for the Remembrance Day celebrations likely saved the lives of intended targets, had Al Swealmeen been able to reach the crowds.
Following Sunday’s attempted terrorist attack, authorities raised the terror threat level in the UK to “severe.” According to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, “the threat level had been raised from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe,’ meaning an attack is highly likely, because the explosion in Liverpool was the second incident in a month.” The UK’s official terrorism threat level was lowered from “severe” to “substantial” in February, however; it has been at severe most of the time since 2014, briefly rising to “critical” amid a spate of violent attacks in 2017. The Joint Terrorism Analysis Center sets the threat level based on intelligence about international terrorism in the UK and overseas, with authorities stating that the UK has experienced attacks by both Islamic terrorism and far-right extremists in recent years. Sunday’s attack followed the UK’s second fatal incident in a month after Member of Parliament David Amess was stabbed and killed in a terror attack in Essex, UK, on October 15 while meeting with constituents. Officials say the attack was an act of terrorism by a supporter of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). This attack came four years after the suicide bombing attack at an Ariana Grande concert killed 22 people in Manchester, and six years after the coordinated Paris attacks.
Authorities further reported that the recent attack in the UK comes in the midst of a dynamic threat environment in which the use of IEDs in attacks have become increasingly more common in Europe and the U.S. IEDs have become an increasingly used tactic by extremists and terror groups, many of which provide guides to extremists online on how to manufacture different types of explosives. This reinforces the importance of deploying properly trained canines for explosive detection, as part of a layered security approach. MSA Canines are trained to detect high and low explosives as well as homemade explosives