The UK has raised its terror threat level to “severe”, the second-highest, after a fatal explosion in Liverpool on Sunday was ruled a “terrorist incident”.
Police investigating the incident said on Monday evening that they strongly suspected that the man who died in the attack was Emad Al Swealmeen, aged 32.
They also announced that they had carried out a controlled explosion at one of two addresses associated with him that they had searched. Such explosions are usually used to make safe explosive devices.
Late on Monday, police said four people arrested on Sunday and Monday in connection with the investigation had been released from custody without charge.
The incident happened just before 11am on Sunday when an explosion set fire to a taxi outside the hospital on the edge of Liverpool city centre. The explosion killed Al Swealmeen, the passenger in the taxi. The driver, who escaped from the vehicle, was injured but has since been discharged from hospital.
One of the UK’s most senior counterterror police officers said the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, which determines the terrorism risk across Britain, had increased the threat level because the explosion was the second incident in a month followed the killing on October 15 of David Amess, a Conservative MP, which counterterror police branded an act of terrorism with a religious motivation.
A severe threat level on the scale set by JTAC’s panel of security service, police and civil service officials means a terror attack is “highly likely”. The threat level had previously been substantial, meaning that an attack was “likely”.
Matt Twist, deputy assistant commissioner at London’s Metropolitan Police, said on Monday that the change was a “precautionary measure” and “not based on any specific threat”.
Pointing to the short timeframe between Amess’s killing and the Liverpool blast, Twist said: “Whilst there is absolutely nothing to suggest any link between these incidents, the fact that two terror attacks have happened in relatively quick succession will have contributed to the intelligence picture that is continually being assessed by JTAC and subsequently has led to the threat level increasing at this time.”
Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, said the British people would never be “cowed by terrorism”.
Later, detective chief inspector Andrew Meeks, senior investigating officer, announcing Al Swealmeen’s identity, said he had been connected to both the Rutland Avenue and Sutcliffe Street addresses in Liverpool that police were searching.
“We believe he lived at the Sutcliffe Street address for some time and had recently rented the Rutland Avenue address,” Meeks said. “Our focus is the Rutland Avenue address, where we have continued to recover significant items.”
Russ Jackson, head of Counter Terrorism Policing North West, had earlier branded Sunday’s blast a “terrorist incident”, despite saying that officers were still unclear of the motivation for the attack.
Jackson, assistant chief constable at Greater Manchester Police and head of the region’s joint counterterror force, told a news conference that inquiries indicated an “improvised explosive device” had been manufactured.
“Our assumption, so far, is that this was built by the passenger in the taxi,” Jackson said.
Police were pursuing a line of inquiry that the incident might have been linked to the annual Remembrance Sunday services.
The Daily Mail on Monday evening reported that Al Swealmeen was originally from Syria, had converted to Christianity and that his intended target was Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, a mile from the hospital, where a Remembrance Sunday service, attended by hundreds of service personnel, was under way at the time of the explosion.
Neither Counter Terrorism Policing North West nor the Diocese of Liverpool immediately responded to requests to comment on the reports.
“Although the motivation for this incident is yet to be understood, given all the circumstances it has been declared a terrorist incident and Counter Terrorism Policing are continuing with the investigation,” Jackson said.
Announcing the release of all those arrested, Jackson said on Monday evening said officers had been satisfied following interviews with the accounts they had provided.
Before the announcement of the controlled explosion, Jackson said officers had searched the property in Rutland Avenue, Sefton Park, the street from which they said the taxi had picked up the passenger who later died.
“At this location, significant items have been found and further searches will be necessary today and potentially into the coming days,” Jackson said.
The taxi driver, widely identified as David Perry, who according to reports locked the car’s doors to prevent the passenger from leaving the vehicle, was praised by the prime minister for his presence of mind and bravery.