The search for suspected chemical attacker Abdul Ezedi is in its third day as police say he was last seen at London’s King’s Cross Tube station before boarding a southbound Victoria line train.
Police have urged the 35-year-old from the Newcastle area – who is described as having very “significant injuries to the right side of his face” – to hand himself in after going on the run following Wednesday’s attack in Clapham, south London.
A 31-year-old mother, believed to be known to Ezedi, was attacked with a corrosive alkaline substance and remains “very poorly” and sedated in hospital, with her injuries thought to be “life-changing”.
The injuries to her daughters, aged three and eight, are “not likely to be life-changing”.
Questions remain over how the suspect, who was granted asylum in the UK after two failed attempts, was able to stay in the country despite being convicted of a sex offence.
Ezedi, who is thought to have arrived in the UK from Afghanistan on the back of a lorry in 2016, claimed to have converted to Christianity, which would have put him at risk following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
The Crown Prosecution Service confirmed he was handed a suspended sentence at Newcastle Crown Court on January 9 2018 after pleading guilty to one charge of sexual assault and one of exposure.
He was put on the Sex Offenders Register for 10 years.
Prime Minster Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said on Friday that the PM does not think “foreign criminals should be able to stay” in the UK.
It has been reported that the suspect was able to gain asylum after claiming he had converted to Christianity.
The Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle said in a statement it had found nothing to suggest he had become a Catholic but checks were continuing.
It said: “Our thoughts and prayers are first and foremost with the victims of this appalling attack in south London.”
The diocese confirmed that Ezedi “visited our diocesan Justice and Peace Refugee Project, a charitable venture which assists a wide range of people who come to us in need”.
It added: “After checking local parish records and central records and after consulting with clergy we have no indication that Abdul Ezedi was received into the Catholic faith in this diocese or that a Catholic priest of this diocese gave him a reference.
“We do not know which Christian church received him nor which Christian minister gave him a reference.”
The project says on its website that it gives food, toiletries and clothes to vulnerable people.
It does not get involved with any asylum claims clients may be pursuing, it is understood.
The PA news agency understands that Ezedi visited it recently and that nothing in the last “few years” of records suggest he had converted to Catholicism.
The Church of England said it is currently not aware of any links to its churches, with a spokesperson adding that it is “the role of the Home Office, and not the church, to vet asylum seekers and judge the merits of their individual cases”.
The case has echoes of that of Iraqi-born Emad Al Swealmeen, 32, who died from a blast and subsequent fire after his homemade bomb detonated in a taxi outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital.
He also claimed to be a Christian convert to support his asylum claim.
Metropolitan Police Commander Jon Savell told reporters outside Scotland Yard on Friday that “significant and important pieces of evidence” were recovered in searches carried out in east London and Newcastle on Thursday night.
Two empty containers labelled with corrosive warnings were found at an address in Newcastle, and forensic tests are checking if they held the substance used during the attack.
Mr Savell said: “In terms of our manhunt for Ezedi, we’ve got a large team of very experienced detectives leading the manhunt, using all the tactics that you would expect us to use, lots of officers out on the ground.
“We’re working very closely with colleagues from Transport for London, British Transport Police and our colleagues in Northumbria Police as well.
“Last night (Thursday), five search warrants were executed – two in east London and three up in Newcastle. We’ve recovered some significant and important pieces of evidence which will help with our investigation.”
Making a direct appeal to Ezedi, Mr Savell said: “Abdul, you clearly have got some very significant injuries.
“We’ve seen the images. You need some medical help, so do the right thing and hand yourself in.”
His brother Hassan Ezedi told The Sun newspaper he would hand the suspect in if he knew where he was.
The wanted man left Newcastle in the “very, very early hours” of Wednesday and travelled south to the capital and was in the Tooting area by around 6.30am, police say.
His vehicle was seen again in Croydon, south London, at around 4.30pm and by around 7pm he was in Streatham.
Ezedi allegedly threw the younger child to the ground during the attack at 7.25pm, before attempting to drive away from the scene, crashing into a stationary vehicle and fleeing on foot.
Minutes later he boarded a tube at Clapham South Underground station, and by 8pm he was at King’s Cross tube station.
At 8.42pm, Ezedi was captured on CCTV in Tesco on the Caledonian Road, pictured with a “fairly significant facial injury” buying a bottle of water, before leaving and heading right.
He got on a Victoria line Tube at 9pm heading south, the last confirmed sighting.
Police say three members of the public who came to the aid of the family during Wednesday’s attack, two in their 30s and one in her 50s, have all been discharged from hospital with minor burns.
Five officers who responded to the incident were also treated and have now left hospital.
One witness to the attack, bus driver Shannon Christi, told the PA news agency she was affected by the substance while trying to help the woman and two children outside her home.
She told of seeing a man throwing a child on the floor, before hearing the mother saying: “I can’t see, I can’t see.”
As well as the 11 people taken to hospital, a man in his 50s, who also helped, declined hospital treatment for minor injuries, police said.
Bilal Khan, owner of Billy’s Garage in Byker, near where Ezedi had lived, said the wanted man had been “persistent” when trying to buy a car off him last summer.
Mr Khan said: “He approached me last year asking if I had a car for sale. We had one which he was interested in and I told him the price. He was a very persistent type of guy, he doesn’t let things go easily.”
Mr Khan indicated that Ezedi lived in a nearby halfway house.