“Although the motivation for this incident is yet to be understood, given all the circumstances, it has been declared a terrorist incident and counterterrorism policing are continuing with the investigation,” Russ Jackson, head of counterterrorism policing in northwestern England, said Monday.
Police arrested three men under the country’s terrorism legislation on Sunday. The Greater Manchester Police said the men, ages 29, 26 and 21, were arrested in Kensington, an area of Liverpool that has a high poverty rate. Jackson said Monday that a fourth man, age 20, was also arrested under the Terrorism Act.
The taxi driver picked up a passenger about 10 minutes away from the hospital, and an explosion occurred within the car as the taxi approached the drop-off point, police said. Jackson said the incident involved the ignition of an explosive device that was brought into the cab by the passenger.
“Our enquiries will now continue to seek to understand how the device was built, the motivation for the incident and to understand if anyone else was involved in it,” Jackson said in a statement he read out at a news briefing.
The driver, who was able to escape, was hospitalized in stable condition and was subsequently released.
He was praised for his apparent efforts to limit the impact of the explosion in his vehicle by reportedly locking the passenger inside the cab.
“It does look as though the taxi driver in question did behave with incredible presence of mind and bravery,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday. He noted that the investigation is ongoing and said it was premature to share further details.
Johnson’s office said he will chair a meeting of the government’s crisis committee on Monday afternoon in response to the attack.
Liverpool Mayor Joanne Anderson told BBC Radio 4′s “Today” program that the taxi driver had “stood out and locked the doors” of his cab, and in his "heroic efforts, has managed to divert what could have been an absolutely awful disaster at the hospital.”
Questions have been raised about the timing of the explosion, which occurred on Remembrance Sunday, a day when Britain pays tribute to its war dead by observing two minutes of silence starting at 11 a.m. Officers said they have not drawn any link between the occasion and the incident but that it remains a “line of inquiry.”
Police and firefighters arrived shortly after 11 a.m. Sunday and extinguished the fire engulfing the taxi.
Carl Bessant was inside the hospital at the time of the blast with his wife, who had just given birth. He said his wife was shaken up by the incident, which occurred as she was feeding their new baby.
“We were so close. ... We heard a loud bang and looked out of the window,” he told state broadcaster BBC. “We saw the car on fire and someone jump out ... screaming, and there was someone inside the car.”
Johnson said on Twitter that his “thoughts are with those affected by the awful incident,” and he thanked emergency services for their swift response.
Detectives from Counter Terrorism Policing North West said they were working with local and regional police and continuing to “keep an open mind about the cause of the explosion,” the BBC reported.
“We would urge the public to remain calm but vigilant,” Chief Constable Serena Kennedy of the Merseyside Police said at a news conference.
Liverpool Women’s Hospital said it would restrict visiting hours until further notice.
– Berger reported from Washington and Pannett from Sydney.