The Remembrance Sunday car explosion outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital has been declared a terrorist attack, though police have said the motive remains unclear.

Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson from Counter-Terrorism North West said the suspected terrorist who died in the blast is believed to have built a homemade bomb while in the taxi after asking to be taken to the hospital.

The passenger got in the taxi in the Rutland Avenue area of the city. As he reached the designated drop off point (around a mile away from the city’s cathedral where a large Remembrance service was taking place), it exploded at 10:59am.

The passenger was later named by counter-terror police as 32-year-old Emad Al Swealmeen.

Four men have since were arrested under terrorism laws in the Kensington area of Liverpool. Three aged 21, 26 and 29 were held on Sunday and a man, 20, who was detained later on Monday. They have all now been released from police custody.

In the wake of the attack, the UK terror threat level has been raised to severe, meaning an attack is highly likely, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosted an emergency Cobra meeting on Monday afternoon in response to the incident.

Taxi driver David Perry, who escaped the blast, has since been praised by Johnson for acting with “incredible presence of mind and bravery”. He was also lauded for his “heroic efforts” by the Liverpool Mayor.

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Who is David Perry?

David Perry is a local Liverpool cab driver, believed to work for Delta Taxis. He escaped the Liverpool explosion outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital on Sunday (November 14).

Perry has since been discharged from hospital and is recovering at home.

What happened?

Footage apparently from a CCTV camera on the hospital site shows the cab pulling up from the hospital reception before bursting into a mass of white smoke and debris. From the smoke, the taxi driver is seen on camera running from the driver’s side, as a man in a yellow hi-vis vest dashes over to help.

The car then bursts into flames as a result of an explosion from within the car. The male passenger of the car was declared dead at the scene and is yet to be formally identified. The clip has been shared widely on social media but not verified by the hospital or the police.

Phil Garrigan, chief fire officer of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, said the car fire was “fully developed” when two crews arrived shortly after 11am.

He told reporters at the scene the fire was extinguished “rapidly” but there was one fatality, adding: “Another individual had left the vehicle prior to the fire developing to the extent that it did.”

Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson said he had spoken to the taxi driver, but at the time he was still shaken and injured. He said police had not yet got a full account of the incident from the driver.

Meanwhile, the security guard Darren Knowles, who helped the taxi driver, said he wanted his wife, moments after the explosion. Knowles said he was pumping up his car tyres when he heard a “loud bang”, believing it to be a mechanical failure.

He told the Mirror: “He was panicking and screaming, ‘Someone has blown me up. I want my wife.’

“He was trying to tell us, ‘There is a passenger, there is a passenger’. I was trying to say to him, ‘Is he still in there’, and he was saying, ‘He has tried to blow me up’.”

City mayor Joanne Anderson previously suggested that the driver had locked the doors to prevent the passenger from escaping.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The taxi driver, in his heroic efforts, has managed to divert what could have been an absolutely awful disaster at the hospital.

“Our thanks go to him and our emergency services, and authorities have worked through the night to divert anything further and we’ve all been on standby and in constant contact to provide any support that’s needed.”

A friend of the driver also claimed on Facebook that he got out of his cab and locked the man in the vehicle after apparently noticing an explosive device.

However, Assistant Chief Constable Jackson said he could not confirm reports the driver had locked the doors of the taxi before the explosion. He said it appeared to have been an “unremarkable journey” to the hospital.

Another friend said Perry was left with “pretty serious injuries” after taking the “brunt of the blast”, according to reports.

What have people said about Perry’s alleged actions?

Speaking about the incident on Monday, Boris Johnson said: “It does look as though the taxi driver in question did behave with incredible presence of mind and bravery.”

And speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the city’s mayor Joanne Anderson said: “The taxi driver, in his heroic efforts, has managed to divert what could have been an absolutely awful disaster at the hospital.

“Our thanks go to him and our emergency services, and authorities have worked through the night to divert anything further and we’ve all been on standby and in constant contact to provide any support that’s needed.”

She added: “Well, we knew that the taxi driver had stood out and locked the doors, we knew that early on.”

Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden, when asked about the driver’s reported actions, told Sky News: “Isn’t that the case, the contrast between the cowardice of terrorism attack and the bravery of ordinary Britons up and down the country who put other people’s lives before their own.

“Clearly we’ll have to see exactly what happened, but if that is the case it is another example of true bravery and courage.”

People have since taken to social media with an outpouring of support for Perry.

How is the investigation going?

The incident has been declared a “terrorist incident” and police said the proximity in location and time to Remembrance services was a “line of inquiry”, though officers cannot draw a connection “at this time”.

Counter-terrorism police have also said they are keeping an open mind about the cause of the explosion and are working closely with Merseyside Police and, according to reports, MI5.

Four men have since been arrested under terrorism laws in the Kensington area of Liverpool. Three aged 21, 26 and 29 were held on Sunday and a man, 20, who was detained later on Monday.

All were arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act, under which officers can detain terror suspects without a warrant. They have all now been released from police custody.

Police said it could take “many weeks” before they fully understand what happened in terms of planning, preparation and how things unfolded.

What do we know about the suspect?

The passenger has been named by counter-terror police as 32-year-old Emad Al Swealmeen. Official sources confirmed to the PA news agency that he was not previously known to the security services.

The suspect is said to have moved to the UK from the Middle East several years ago and been supported by a Christian couple, Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott, who at one stage housed him in Liverpool.

He had an application for asylum rejected the following year, but was still in the country.

He was a Christian convert and there was growing concern within the Home Office at the role of the Church of England converting asylum seekers, according to reports. However, the couple who took him in insisted that he had been an “absolutely genuine” Christian with a “real passion for Jesus Christ”.

Mr and Mrs Hitchcott said they had been contacted by Al Swealmeen in 2017 when he was “desperate” for somewhere to stay. Mr Hitchcott told BBC Radio Merseyside: “He arrived here on April 1, 2017. He was with us then for eight months, and during that time we saw him really blossoming in regards to his Christian faith.

“He really had a passion about Jesus that I wish many Christians had, and he was ready to learn.

“He was keen on reading his Bible and every night we used to pray – my wife and him, and if there was anybody else in the house – we prayed for half an hour or so and studied the scriptures.

“He was absolutely genuine, as far as I could tell. I was in no doubt by the time that he left us at the end of that eight months that he was a Christian.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the suspect in the Liverpool Remembrance Sunday suicide bombing was able to exploit Britain’s “dysfunctional” asylum system 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 said.

“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.”

She added: “These people have come to our country and abused British values, abused the values of the fabric of our country and our society.

“And as a result of that, there’s a whole industry that thinks it’s right to defend these individuals that cause the most appalling crimes against British citizens, devastating their lives, blighting communities — and that is completely wrong.”

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