A suspected terrorist who blew himself up with a home-made bomb outside a hospital in northern England was a Christian convert who reportedly had an asylum claim rejected in 2014.
Emad Al Swealmeen is said to have moved to the UK from the Middle East several years ago and been supported by a couple who at one stage housed him in Liverpool.
Police said it could take “many weeks” before they fully understand what happened.
Malcolm Hitchcott, who with his wife Elizabeth had taken Al Swealmeen in to live with them, told The Sun newspaper the suspect had first gone to Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral in 2015 and had been keen to convert from Islam to Christianity.
“He was destitute at that time and we took him in,” Malcolm Hitchcott said.
“The UK asylum people were never convinced he was Syrian and he was refused asylum in 2014.
“He had his case rejected because he has been sectioned due to some mental health incident where he was waving a knife at people from an overpass.”
Al Swealmeen was reported to have converted to Christianity at the city’s Anglican Cathedral in 2017.
“We’re just so, so sad. We just loved him. He was a lovely guy,” Elizabeth Hitchcott told the BBC.
The suspect, described as artistic and a motor racing fan by the couple, was reported to have changed his name to Enzo – after the renowned racing driver Enzo Ferrari.
The Sun reported he was a Jordanian national who had spent time in Iraq, where his mother was from.
The driver of the taxi, named locally as David Perry, survived Sunday’s incident and has since been discharged from hospital.
Four men arrested under terrorism laws in the Kensington area of Liverpool – three, aged 21, 26 and 29, who were held on Sunday, and a man aged 20 who was detained on Monday – have been released from police custody following interviews.
The UK terror threat level has been raised from substantial to severe following the incident, meaning an attack is ‘highly likely’.
Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson, from Counter Terrorism Police North West, previously told journalists the explosive device had been “manufactured” and the force’s assumption was that it was built by Al Swealmeen in the taxi.
A motive is still unclear but the incident has been declared a terrorist attack.
Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5 is assisting police with the investigation.
In an update on Monday evening, Mr Jackson said “significant progress” had been made, but there was a “considerable way to go” in understanding details behind the incident.