Christian convert receives death threat following Liverpool Poppy Day attack

22 November 2021, 21:12

Emad Al Swealmeen, who was born in Iraq, was behind the Liverpool Poppy Day explosion.
Emad Al Swealmeen, who was born in Iraq, was behind the Liverpool Poppy Day explosion. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

A Christian convert who is a member of the church that the Liverpool bomber had attended has received a death threat in the wake of the Poppy Day terror attack.

Iraq-born Emad Al Swealmeen detonated a homemade explosion outside Liverpool Women's Hospital shortly before 11am on Remembrance Sunday, killing himself and injuring taxi driver David Perry.

Police declared the blast a terror attack, with detectives discovering that Al Swealmeen had been buying parts for his homemade bomb since April.

The explosion did not kill any civilians, and the taxi driver managed to escape the vehicle before it exploded.

Al Swealmeen converted to Christianity in 2015, before he moved in with Christian volunteers Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott two years later.

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Taxi explodes outside Liverpool Women's Hospital

In the wake of the terror attack, Christian converts at St Philemon's Church in Toxteth - where Al Swealmeen had attended with the Hitchcott family - have felt "fearful" of going to church.

The Rev Brian Elfick said one former asylum seeker has even received a death threat.

"The bombing will have affected our church in a number of ways... those from the Middle East feel much more distrusted and unwelcome," Mr Elfick said.

"One member of our church family received a death threat... despite having residency.

"Because St Philemon's has a number of asylum seekers, some on the fringes of church life are fearful of coming to church, but we expect that fear to pass."

Many of St Philemon's members have converted from other religions, and the church regularly holds services and bible studies translated in Farsi and Sorani.

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Mr Elfick said Al Swealmeen's attendance at his church was not "habitual" but many of the congregation "will have met him at some point" through the Hitchcotts, who attended St Philemon's between 2017 and 2019.

Al Swealmeen reportedly arrived in the UK from the Middle East in 2014 and had an application for asylum rejected the following year, but had a fresh appeal ongoing at the time of his death.

He was baptised at Liverpool Cathedral in 2015 and confirmed there in 2017, but lost contact with the cathedral the following year.

Bishop Cyril Ashton said he had conducted the confirmation of Al Swealmeen and that the Christian convert "would have been thoroughly prepared with an understanding of the Christian faith".

The Home Office is reportedly concerned at the role of the Church of England in converting refugees and Mr Elfick said his church is aware some people fraudulently claim conversion in order to gain asylum.

"We recognise our limits, we cannot look into another person's heart," he said.

"We do not facilitate any 'gaming of the system' - we are about discipling people, not coaching them through a process."

"We are delighted to have asylum seekers and ex-asylum seekers as members of our church family and we seek to love them as we would anyone else," Mr Elfick said.

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"We are conscious that those who gain asylum often need help in building a new life here and we seek to help them in practical ways to become rooted in their new community.

"St Philemon's often writes letters of support for church members for any number of reasons, such as school applications, and so does the same for asylum applications."

Taxi driver David Perry, who was released from hospital the day after the attack, said it's a "miracle" he is alive.

In a statement released by police, Mr Perry pleaded with people to "be kind, be vigilant and stay safe".

"I feel like it's a miracle that I'm alive and so thankful that no one else was injured in such an evil act," he said.

"I now need time to try to come to terms with what's happened and focus on my recovery both mentally and physically."

The examination of the scene at Liverpool Women's Hospital has now come to an end, but Merseyside Police will be maintaining a mobile police station on site to reassure staff and the public.

Detectives from Counter Terrorism Police North West (CTPNW) have now recovered all necessary evidence for further examination and have closed the cordon.

The scene at Sutcliffe Street, Kensington has also been closed, while searches by Counter Terrorism Police North West remain ongoing at Rutland Avenue in Sefton Park.