Emad Al Swealmeen, a 32-year-old man who detonated an improvised explosive device, killing himself and injuring a driver in a taxicab outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital on Sunday morning, tried to use his claim of Christian conversion to “game” the country’s asylum system, U.K. Home Office sources contend.
Home Secretary Priti Patel told media while on a flight to Washington, D.C., that Swealmeen seemed to have exploited the “merry-go-round” that is the U.K.'s “broken” asylum system as he made various claims in an attempt to remain in the country.
“The case in Liverpool was a complete reflection of how dysfunctional, how broken, the system has been in the past, and why I want to bring changes forward," she was quoted as saying.
“It’s a complete merry-go-round and it has been exploited. A whole sort of professional legal services industry has based itself on rights of appeal, going to the courts day-in day-out at the expense of the taxpayers through legal aid. That is effectively what we need to change.”
A Home Office source told The U.K. Times that Swalmeen tried to use his conversion to Christianity in his attempt to gain asylum, which is a common tactic used by Iranians and Iraqi asylum seekers to “game the system.” Applicants for asylum in the U.K. who can show they are committed Christians can argue that their conversion would put them at risk in their home country.
Swealmeen arrived in the U.K. in 2014 and applied for asylum claiming he was from Syria. His application for asylum was denied the following year based on data showing he was from Jordan. He reportedly became depressed in 2019 when his claim to be from Syria on another asylum application was denied.
Court records indicate that Swealmeen sought to convert to Christianity in 2015 and adopted a new name, Enzo Almeni, following the conversion, BBC reports. He was baptized in Liverpool Cathedral in 2015 and confirmed in 2017, though diocese officials say they lost contact with him in 2018.
One tribunal decision in 2017 argued that the “improbably large” number of Iranians attending courses and services at Liverpool Cathedral meant it was unlikely they were all genuine converts. It was “possible for an individual to feign conversion,” the decision said.
However, other asylum cases were approved after tribunals ruled the new faith of the applicant was genuine.
Cyril Ashton, an assistant bishop of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral where Swealmeen was confirmed, told The Guardian that Swealmeen’s confirmation was “one of hundreds I have conducted as a bishop, so I have no specific recollection of the individual.”
“The church takes confirmation seriously and I know that he would have been thoroughly prepared with an understanding of the Christian faith. It seems that, sadly, despite this grounding, the bomber chose a different path for his life,” Ashton said.
A spokesperson for the Church of England also said in a BBC report that the denomination was not aware that converts could be abusing the asylum system.
“We are not aware of any evidence to suggest a widespread correlation between conversion to Christianity, or any other faith, and abuse of the asylum system,” the spokesperson said.
A Liverpool Cathedral spokesperson further noted that “Liverpool Cathedral has developed robust processes for discerning whether someone might be expressing a genuine commitment to faith.”
“These include requirements for regular attendance alongside taking part in a recognized Christian basics course. We would expect someone to be closely connected with the community for at least two years before we would consider supporting an application.”
Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott, devout Christians and members of the Liverpool Cathedral who Swealmeen lived with after converting to Christianity, told ITV News that the bomber had previously struggled with his mental health. But they don’t doubt his faith.
“He was very enquiring. He was, I thought at that time, certainly very genuine, and he took great delight in learning new things,” Malcolm Hitchcott said.
He further told The Guardian that Swealmeen talked “endlessly and passionately about Jesus.” He was impressed by the “depth of his prayers” and knowledge of the Bible.
Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson confirmed to BBC Wednesday that Swealmeen indeed suffered from periods of mental illness, which will “form part of the investigation.”
Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services, also told the news network that Swealmeen, who began renting a place in Liverpool seven months ago, received treatment in the past but was not being treated at the time of the explosion.
“A complex picture is emerging over the purchases of the component parts of the device, we know that Al Swealmeen rented the property from April this year and we believe relevant purchases have been made at least since that time,” Jackson said.