Terror attack in Liverpool was undertaken by an alleged Christian convert – this poses many questions for the church!

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London: (By Hannah Chowdhry) On the 11th November every year churches and cathedrals across the country commemorate fallen soldiers, and  hold special services to reflect on the wars that have caused mankind so much anguish and pain.

In Liverpool this year that sombre atmosphere was destroyed by the actions of yet another terrorist only months after the slaying of MP David Amess (click here) in Southend some 245 miles away.

The two terrorists attacks have triggered a response from our Government who have raised the UK terrorist threat to severe, suggesting that a further attack is imminent.

Police investigating the recent explosion of an improvised explosive device  (IED) in a taxi that was heading towards Liverpool Women’s Hospital have defined the attack as one of terrorism, but are ‘keeping an open mind’ about the purpose of the attack.  This is based on the apparent conversion to Christianity in 2015 by now deceased perpetrator Emad Al Swealmeen.

Mr Al Swealman had failed his application for asylum which was rejected by the Home Office in 2014, only a year before he entered Liverpool Cathedral and asked for help as he wanted to become Christian.

Mr Al Swealman moved to the UK from the Middle East several years ago and was definitely supported by a Christian couple who even housed him in their own home.

Malcolm Hitchcott and his wife Elizabeth had taken Mr Al Swealmeen in to live with them after he entered Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral for discipleship.

During an interview with ITV, Mr Hitchcott said there was “never any suggestion of anything amiss” during the eight months Al Swealmeen lived with them.

Mrs Hitchcott told the BBC: “We’re just so, so sad. We just loved him, he was a lovely guy.”

It can be seen that this Christian couple had great love for Mr Al Swealmeen and that their time with him was a time of joy for them.  An image of the Christian couple with the young man can be viewed on on this Manchester evening news article (click here).

Britain’s largest Muslim umbrella group the Muslim Council of Britain praised David Perry the taxi driver for what they believed was a swift response to prevent a wider atrocity.

“Nothing justifies this reprehensible act, and we praise the quick action of David Perry who prevented a terrorist attack,” said Zara Mohammed, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, in a statement Monday, Anadolu Agency reports.

She said Sunday’s attack took the form of an explosion outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital, “which holds a special place for the people of Liverpool.”

“Many Muslims work at the hospital and the institution is a neighbour to one of the city’s largest mosques,” Mohammed added.  You can read more of her statement (here)

It seems Zara Mohammed was responding to a false claim made by friends of Mr Perry.  They stated that he had noted some suspicious behaviour from the suspected terrorist and had locked him inside the taxi, before swiftly exiting the taxi.  A statement from Mr Perry had refuted that and video evidence show that he escaped the vehicle by some miracle shortly after the explosion in somewhat of a daze.

Though it is extremely likely that a worse atrocity has been avoided probably by a misfire of the IED, most experts believe the Remembrance Day service at Liverpool Cathedral was the original target.  Certainly there would have been in excess of 1200 military personnel, veterans and families of the fallen attending the event.  Moreover the explosion at 10:59am was only a minute before the two minute silence began at the cathedral.

The motivations of the killer of course are not known at this stage and Ms Zara Mohammed may be correct in assuming that Muslims where being targeted by Mr Al Swealmeen.  However with some certainty we can clarify that it would not have been members of the Liverpool Cathedral that were involved in orchestrating the attack or manipulating Mr Al Swealmeen towards an attempted suicide killing.  We know this because a cathedral spokesman has informed media that though Al Swealmeen was baptised in 2015 and confirmed in 2017, he lost all contact with the cathedral by 2018.

What leads me to lean towards this being an Islamist attack is the fact that the type of IED used is said to be a replica of the ‘Mother of Satan’ device, used in the attack at Manchester Arena in 2017 by Salman Abedi.  The date of the attack in Manchester also neatly fits in with the fading away of Mr Al Swealmeen from the church.  It does seem that he had not reentered any church since 2018.

Of course there is a current investigation in place and it would not be fit for me or any other commentator to confer too much into motivations at this stage.  But many questions would arise in the Christian community should it be confirmed that this was in fact an Islamist attack.

I attend a church which has a large body of Iranian Christians holding their own services at our church. I am utterly confident in the salvation of these Christians and hope that our churches continue to be places welcome to all visitors.  We cannot be cowed by the recent acts of a man who may not have been as genuine in his desire for salvation as the many brothers and sisters who have found peace through Christ.

Churches do however have to be vigilant to protect their parishioners especially those new to the faith who may be targeted by those who are disingenuous.  Regular conversations with new converts perhaps with a buddy who can be a confidant would enable churches to evaluate safety and disciple more effectively.

There has always been a knowledge in the church that not every asylum seeker who enters the church is a genuine convert.  BACA has heard from a number of churches of people who have gone through the process of baptism, bible study and solid church membership, only to disappear after attaining legal right to remain in the UK.  But many more cases exist for those who are genuinely saved.

More and more churches provide less help towards the asylum process focusing on the need for salvation above all – for me there is a balance to be struck.  Churches will have to navigate through the desire to bring a person into God’s Kingdom without putting themselves at risk of supporting a terrorist’s who will endanger our nation. Personally I think this is good advice whether Mr Al Swealmeen was an Islamist or not, due diligence simply should be sacrosanct.

I have no idea how much support Liverpool Cathedral gave to Mr Al Swealmeen in regards to his stay in the UK or if he ever gained asylum. However, after his asylum claim was denied in 2014, he was still found in the UK in 2021 and then attempted to blow himself up with intent to kill and maim others.

We should not find the cathedral at fault if they did assist with an asylum application with letters of support.  For all intents and purposes this man was entrenched in the church, was Baptised and Confirmed and no doubt exhibited the qualities of a new believer. But knowledge of this attack must have some ramification on how churches support asylum seekers with applications made to the UK Home Office.  Giving a certificate confirming that the holder is baptised, confirmed or in the cases of children christened is of course valid for those who undertake these religious practices. Any further input must now be prayerfully considered and must be agreed by church local church councils and not by any one individual be it a vicar, pastor, priest deacon or any other level of church leadership. We must all pray that our churches have the discernment to make the right decisions which emphasises a total church body responsibility.

Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:

“I was shocked by the revelation that the Liverpool Women’s Hospital terrorist suspect was an apparent convert to Christianity.

“Though his motivations have not been confirmed, I find it hard to believe that his actions are motivated by the Christian faith.

“The timing of the attack and the proximity to Liverpool Cathedral suggest this was going to be a remembrance day attack, irrespective of that, the fact that any lives were at risk from his threat is despicable.

“We thank God that none of the targets of this depraved individual were killed and pray for His continued protection for the people of Britain.”

For me this latest attack is a reminder of how Britain as a whole must remain vigilant, extremism of all types must be viewed as anathema by people of good conscience of any faith.

Specifically, to the church I would say that as Christians we must remember God’s love for all, despite the sense in the church that we are becoming more of a target, victims of global persecution of the faithful.

I only learnt this week that slain MP David Amess, who was killed by an Islamist in Southend near my younger sisters school (click here), attended Davenant Foundation School where I am taking my A Levels.  For me that was a realisation of how close all of us are to being the next victim, if we do nothing to change current societal polarisation.

On that note I ask churches across the country to pray for peace in Britain and across the globe. Our God must be totally disappointed with the mess mankind continues to make of his creation.

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