At 10:59 am on Sunday 14th November, a car exploded outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital. In the days following, the UK Government has raised the terrorism threat level from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe.’

While the investigation is currently ongoing with the motive still to be determined, the question people are asking is: is this a terrorist attack?

What has been discovered is that before 11 am, a local taxi driver picked up a fare in the Rutland Avenue area of Liverpool. The man asked to be taken to Liverpool Women’s Hospital, approximately 10 minutes away. As the taxi approached the building, there was a blast from within the car which was quickly engulfed in flames.

The explosion resulted in the death of the suspect who police have now confirmed was 32-year-old Emad Al Swealmeen. The cause of death has been attributed to his injuries from the explosion. The driver of the taxi sustained injuries after fleeing the vehicle but was released from the hospital soon after.

ACC Russ Jackson Head of the Counterterrorism North West Unit said in a press statement: “We are able to confirm that this is being treated as the ignition of an explosive device, our enquiries also indicate that the device was brought into the cab by the passenger.” Police believe that the explosion was caused by an improvised explosive device that is thought to have been manufactured by the passenger in the taxi.

This alleged terrorist incident follows another violent attack that occurred in October against Sir David Amess MP who was murdered in Essex.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, Senior National Coordinator for Protect and Prepare stated on 15th October after the raising of the terrorist threat level that, “the threat level moving to severe means it is ‘highly likely’ that a terrorist attack could happen in the UK. But I want to make clear that the change is a precautionary measure and not based on any specific threat.”

Subsequent investigations found the next of kin for the suspect Al Swealmeen. They also provided police with further background information about the suspect including that: he has struggled with his mental health in the past and was born in Iraq.

Whether or not the ongoing investigations lead to an answer on if this was indeed a terrorist incident, the circumstances surrounding the attack have caused significant speculation both in the community and on social media.

Regardless of whether this will be labelled as a terrorist based incident: violent attacks that have no clear reasoning can often be contributed to terrorist attacks.

The UK Government has multiple programmes in place that intend to stop individuals from becoming terrorists before an incident of this nature occurs. These programmes appear under Counter Terrorism Policing which is a partnership between UK Police Forces, the UK Intelligence Community and MI5. The Prevent’ programme aims at stopping any vulnerable people from being radicalised into terrorist ideologies.

Following their ‘Prevent’ programme is the ‘Pursue’ initiative. This next step combines surveillance, forensics, digital and financial investigations. The surveillance includes:

  • Covert Human Intelligence Sources or ‘agents’,
  • The observation and following of targets,
  • The monitoring of emails or phone calls,
  • Communication and bulk personal data access,
  • Intrusive surveillance e.g. the use of eavesdropping devices and,
  • Equipment interference by accessing computers or other devices.

Within these established programmes are support services. One such programme is the Counterterrorism Vulnerability Support Service (VSS) established in 2016. The VSS have established three pilot hubs in large metropolitan areas which are staffed by a combination of Mental Health Practitioners and Police. The VSS hopes to: provide early identification and support for vulnerable people at risk of radicalisation and, provide referrals for support services and rehabilitation. Largely, the programme is targeted towards those who may be exposed to a broad spectrum of violent ideologies and, who might otherwise fall through gaps of existing support networks.

The last year’s statistics (year ending in March 2021) that have come out of the Prevent Programme, show that there was a 22% decrease of referrals made when compared to the previous year’s numbers. This is likely to be due to the public health restrictions that were constructed to control the COVID-19 cases.

In the past, some have speculated the effectiveness of Prevent and whether it promotes Islamophobic views of British Muslims. An independent research project that investigated the reputation of the Prevent programme within all-Muslim focus groups, found that there are concerns that need to be addressed. The project revealed that support for risk-based targeting is high amongst British Muslims, however, “it means all Muslims are treated as suspects”.

While we wait to learn more from police and sources close to the suspect about the incident, the presence of police and Public Safety Officers has been increased in the Liverpool area.

Image by King’s Church International Via Unsplash

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