MANCHESTER, England – The UK raised its terrorism threat level to “critical” — the highest level — for the first time in a decade Tuesday. Prime Minister Theresa May warned that intelligence services believe an attack may be “imminent.”
Hours earlier, police identified 22-year-old Salman Abedi as the suspected suicide attacker who detonated a bomb as throngs of teenagers poured out of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, killing 22 people.
The suspect apparently acted as a lone attacker and died in the blast Monday night, police said, which left the wounded and the dead scattered across the arena’s bloodied entrance and sent screaming girls running for cover.
But May warned that investigators could not discount the possible involvement of a “wider group” of terrorists.
The raising of the terror threat level means “not only that another attack remains highly likely but that a further attack may be imminent,” she said. It will enable the government to deploy armed military personnel of support of police and other security forces, particularly in the guarding of key sites, concerts and sporting events, May said.
“I do not want the public to feel unduly alarmed,” she said, calling the response “proportionate and sensible” to the threat level.
Greater Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins named the suspect Tuesday but said that the man’s identity had not been yet confirmed by a coroner.
The blast marked the deadliest terror attack on British soil since the 2005 London bombings. Hundreds of residents remembered the newest victims during a Tuesday evening vigil.
A powerful explosion shook part of the cavernous Manchester Arena late Monday as concertgoers streamed out following the American pop star’s last song.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack but offered no evidence.
An 8-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman have been named as the first victims of the attack, which has drawn condemnation and horror from around the world as a heinous assault targeting children.
- Ariana Grande suspends her world tour.
- Police have carried out two raids in Manchester.
- Queen Elizabeth II described bombing as “act of barbarity.”
- 59 people injured, some in life-threatening situations.
- US President Donald Trump slams attackers as “losers.”
- British Prime Minister says police have identified the suspect.
ISIS said on its Telegram channel Tuesday that a “soldier of the caliphate” was able to “plant explosive devices” at the arena, a US counter-terrorism source told CNN. ISIS routinely claims attacks it has no proven links with.
But authorities have discovered no evidence of a link between the attacker and an established terror group, a British counterterrorism official told CNN.
No determination has been on the sophistication of the explosive device or what chemicals were involved, the official said.
A US counterterrorism official said bombing “looks much like” an ISIS attack but that American intelligence officials were working with British counterparts to determine more.
Abedi is of Libyan descent, sources in Manchester’s Libyan community told CNN. May said he was born and raised in the UK.
On Tuesday evening, hundreds attended a vigil outside Manchester City Hall in honor of the victims.
“We will stand together to say that this city is greater than the force that aligns itself against it,” David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, told the crowd. “We are sending a signal not just to Manchester, but across the world that you can not defeat us because love in the end is always stronger than hate.”
Video from inside the arena showed girls screaming as they scrambled over chairs and railings to escape the 21,000-seat venue, while photographs showed bodies laying bloodied on the floor.
After an emergency Cabinet meeting, British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the attack as “callous” and “cowardly.”
“We struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room packed with young children not a scene to cherish but as an opportunity for carnage,” May said in London before leaving for Manchester.
Young victims named
Eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos from Leyland has been named as one of the fatalities, the Lancashire County Council confirmed.
Chris Upton, the head teacher at the Tarleton Community Primary School, described her as “simply a beautiful little girl” who was “quiet and unassuming with a creative flair.”
Georgina Callander, 18, was also killed, according to her school, the Bishop Rawstorne Church of England Academy.
“All of our students will gather together today for a time of prayer and reflection and to give thanks for the life of Georgina,” the school said.
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, who had just finished the first of three scheduled UK performances, tweeted about her devastation several hours later: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.”
The pop star has suspended her “Dangerous Woman” tour following the attack, a source with knowledge of the situation told CNN. Grande was scheduled to perform in London and across Europe through mid-June.
Queen Elizabeth II said Tuesday that “the whole nation has been shocked.”
‘Darkest of nights’ in Manchester
Britain has been under a “severe” terror threat alert for three years and there has been an uptick in terror-related arrests in recent months.
Police have warned that another attack was likely after a man plowed his car into a crowd on London’s Westminister Bridge in March and stabbed a policeman, in an attack that left six dead.
Around 400 police were deployed overnight following the attack, and on Tuesday, large groups of armed police were seen in several parts of the city. Security was boosted in London.
People began paying their respects to the victims on Tuesday afternoon. A family of four arrived at St. Ann’s Square in the city center with a bouquet of flowers and balloons.
“I’m just feeling really down for all the families that lost their children and family members,” said Michael Heveril.
“It’s quite close to home — I never thought anything like this would ever happen in Manchester.”
The explosion rocked the arena at around 10:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. ET). The sound of wailing sirens cut through the smoky aftermath.
Crying children and parents desperately tried to find each other as cell phone signals faltered, witnesses said.
Manchester resident Charlotte Campbell told CNN she waited for news on her 15-year-old daughter, Olivia. “We’ve tried everything we can. They’re telling us to wait by the phones,” she said.
Olivia had gone to the concert with a friend and neither have been in contact. Her father was looking for the girls.
“I want her home and I want her safe,” Charlotte Campbell said. “I just want her to walk through the door.”
Trump calls attackers ‘losers’
US President Donald Trump slammed the attack, saying that terrorists were “losers.”
“So many young beautiful innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life. I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. They would think that’s a great name. I will call them from now on losers because that’s what they are,” he said. “This wicked ideology must be obliterated.”
The US Department of Homeland Security said it was “closely monitoring” the situation.
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