Manchester attack: Bomber linked to wider network, recently returned from Libya

MANCHESTER, England – The 22-year-old behind the deadly bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester was linked to a wider network and had returned from Libya just days before launching his attack, officials say.

Police named Salman Abedi, a British-born national of Libyan descent, as the bomber in the attack on Manchester Arena, which killed at least 22 people, including children, on Monday night. Abedi died in what appears to have been a suicide bombing.

“It is very clear that this is a network we are investigating,” Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said Wednesday following a series of raids and arrests.

Key developments

Brother of Manchester bomber arrested in Libya.

A friend of attacker’s family says Abedi went to Libya after getting into trouble in UK. Attacker returned to UK days before bombing, friend says. UK to hold minute of silence Thursday morning.

Arrest in Libya

Home Secretary Amber Rudd earlier told the BBC that Abedi was on the radar of intelligence services.

Abedi was in Libya for three weeks and returned just days before his attack, US military officials assigned to the Africa Command told CNN. They said that information had been shared between US and British intelligence services, but cautioned that a full intelligence analysis was underway to put those details in context.

In Libya, a brother of Abedi — identified as 20-year-old Hashim Ramadan Abu Qassem al-Abedi — was arrested Tuesday night on suspicion of links to ISIS, according to a statement from a Tripoli militia known as the Special Deterrence Force. The militia, nominally under the control of the Interior Ministry, published the statement on their Facebook page.

The younger Abedi was allegedly planning a terror attack in Libya at the time of his arrest, the militia reported. He was picked up while allegedly receiving a money transfer from Salman Abedi.

CNN has not been able to independently verify the details from the militia. The UK Foreign Office, Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police had no immediate comment on the reported arrest in Libya.

The militia claims that the younger Abedi admitted knowledge about the Manchester attack and was in Britain for its planning. The statement also said he left the UK in mid April and had been under surveillance about a month and a half.

Abedi’s father brought Salman and his younger brother to Libya from Manchester about a month ago because the young men were getting in trouble in England, a family friend in Libya told CNN. The brothers wanted revenge for a friend who was killed by a gang, according to the family friend, who asked not to be identified.

The father, a police officer whose name is Ramadan, took his sons’ passports so they could not return to England, according to the friend.

The friend and another source in Manchester’s Libyan community said Salman got his passport back after telling his father he was going on a Umrah pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. He returned to England instead.

Abedi carried out the attack three days after returning to the UK, said the family friend, who described the attacker’s father as “shaking” after learning of his son’s involvement.

US military officials said that American and UK intelligence services, along with the Africa Command, are looking at the possibility Abedi could have met with ISIS members or operatives from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a North African militant organization.

Rudd earlier slammed the US for leaking several details on the attack investigation as “irritating” and asked them to stop.

French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb also revealed some details, telling BFM-TV that Abedi had “proven links to ISIS,” without elaborating.

“We will find out more when the operation is complete,” Rudd told the BBC.

Rudd later refused to respond to Collomb’s comments that Abedi was believed to have been to Syria. She also refused to elaborate on reports in Arab media that the father of the bomber had links to Islamist rebel groups in Libya.

Security boosted

The UK will hold a minute of silence in remembrance of the victims at 11 a.m. Thursday — two days after Prime Minister Theresa May announced that Britain’s threat level had been raised from “severe” to “critical,” and warned that a “further attack may be imminent.”

Five men are now in custody in the UK — including four arrested in the Manchester area on Wednesday and a 23-year-old detained Tuesday.

CNN journalists witnessed the aftermath of a raid outside the Granby House apartment building in central Manchester, where police were guarding the front door and letting residents out. Images from the raid showed heavily armed officers storming the building.

Up to 3,800 military personnel have been made available following the attack, Secretary Rudd said, and almost 1,000 are deployed.

London’s Metropolitan Police service announced that military personnel would guard “key locations” as part of what’s been called Operation Temperer, and soldiers were seen at Buckingham Palace and extra police at train stations on Wednesday morning.

“I would expect this to be temporary, but we will keep a close eye to see how long we need them for and when it’s appropriate we end Operation Temperer and go back to our different levels,” Rudd said.

The Chelsea Football Club canceled its victory parade for winning the English Premier League. It was planned for Sunday in London, but the club said it decided to call it off out of respect for the victims and in light of the security threat.

The British parliament said that it was closing its doors to non-passholders and canceled all its events.

Attacker’s ties to Libya

Abedi’s three weeks in Libya has raised questions about his travel route and how aware British authorities were of him and his movements in recent weeks.

The Africa Command, which oversees any US military involvement in Libya, is now trying to use its contacts there to learn where Abedi went and whom he might have met with, US military officials said.

Abedi was was a student at the University of Salford in Manchester. The University told CNN that he was studying business and management but while he was enrolled for the current academic year he has not been attending classes.

Libya has become a hotspot for terrorism since the downfall and death of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. ISIS has gained a foothold in the country, and a tenuous UN-backed government there has struggled to assume full command of the security situation.

ISIS claimed Monday’s attack, saying on its Telegram channel Tuesday that a “soldier of the caliphate” was able to “plant explosive devices” at the arena, according to a US counterterrorism source. ISIS routinely claims attacks with which it has no proven connection.

Authorities have discovered no evidence of a link between the attacker and an established terror group, a British counterterrorism official told CNN.

Children among the dead

Monday’s blast marked the deadliest terror attack on British soil since the 2005 London bombings, which killed 52 people.

Seven victims have so far been named, and Chief Constable Hopkins confirmed that another person killed was a police officer. Cheshire Police, in a statement, said the victim was an off-duty female officer. She was not identified.

Among the dead are 8-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos from Leyland, the Lancashire County Council confirmed; and 15-year-old Olivia Campbell, her mother confirmed.

Georgina Callander, 18, an Ariana Grande superfan, also died, her school said, and John Atkinson, a 26-year-old student from Greater Manchester, was killed, according to Ivan Lewis, a local politician.

Michelle Kiss, a wife and mother, is among the dead, her family said. Two Poles were also killed, Poland’s Foreign Ministry tweeted.

Sixty-four people were injured in the attack, and at least 12 victims aged 16 or under were being treated at a children’s hospital for serious injuries, some of them fighting for their lives, a Manchester health official said.

Grande has suspended her “Dangerous Woman” tour out of respect to the victims, canceling upcoming shows in London and Switzerland, according to the performer’s management.

By Ray Sanchez, Angela Dewan, Euan McKirdy and Zayn Nabbi, CNN

CNN’s Barbara Starr, Jomana Karadsheh, Paul Cruickshank, Samantha Beech, Darran Simon, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Bryony Jones, Pamela Brown, Jomana Karadsheh, Evan Perez and Ross Levitt contributed to this report.