November 22, 2021 Faith Matters

Christian convert receives death threat following Liverpool bombing

A Christian convert at a church connected with the Liverpool bomber has received a death threat in the wake of the Remembrance Sunday terror attack.

Iraq-born Emad Al Swealmeen, the 32-year-old bomber, converted to Christianity in 2015 and in 2017 lived with Christian volunteers Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott, who attended St Philemon’s Church in Toxteth.

The Rev Brian Elfick said Christian converts at St Philemon’s have felt “fearful of coming to church” since the bombing on November 14, with one former asylum seeker receiving a death threat.

“The bombing will have affected our church in a number of ways… those from the Middle East feel much more distrusted and unwelcome,” Mr Elfick told the PA news agency.

“One member of our church family received a death threat… despite having residency.

“Because St Philemon’s has a number of asylum seekers, some on the fringes of church life are fearful of coming to church, but we expect that fear to pass.”

Mr Elfick said Al Swealmeen’s attendance at his church was not “habitual” but many of the congregation “will have met him at some point” through the Hitchcotts, who attended St Philemon’s between 2017 and 2019.

Al Swealmeen reportedly arrived in the UK from the Middle East in 2014 and had an application for asylum rejected the following year, but had a fresh appeal ongoing at the time of his death.

The Home Office is reportedly concerned at the role of the Church of England in converting refugees and Mr Elfick said his church is aware some people fraudulently claim conversion in order to gain asylum.

“We recognise our limits, we cannot look into another person’s heart,” he said.

“We do not facilitate any ‘gaming of the system’ – we are about discipling people, not coaching them through a process.”

Many of St Philemon’s members have converted from other religions, and the church regularly holds services and bible studies translated in Farsi and Sorani.

“We are delighted to have asylum seekers and ex-asylum seekers as members of our church family and we seek to love them as we would anyone else,” Mr Elfick said.

“We are conscious that those who gain asylum often need help in building a new life here and we seek to help them in practical ways to become rooted in their new community.

“St Philemon’s often writes letters of support for church members for any number of reasons, such as school applications, and so does the same for asylum applications.”

A spokesman for Liverpool Cathedral confirmed that the bomber had been baptised in 2015 and confirmed there in 2017, but lost contact with the cathedral the following year.

Bishop Cyril Ashton said he had conducted the confirmation of Al Swealmeen and that the Christian convert “would have been thoroughly prepared with an understanding of the Christian faith”.

Al Swealmeen detonated a homemade bomb outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital just before 11am on November 14, killing himself and injuring taxi driver David Perry.