Manchester, United Kingdom | AFP | Police on Tuesday named a young man — reportedly British-born of Libyan descent — as the suspect behind a suicide bombing that ripped into young fans at a concert in Manchester, as the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the carnage.
Manchester police identified the suspect behind the attack which killed 22 people, including an eight-year-old girl, as 22-year-old Salman Abedi but declined to give any further details.
British media said he was born in the northwestern English city and that his Libyan parents had fled the regime of dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
“The priority remains to establish whether he was acting alone or as part of a network,” Manchester police chief constable Ian Hopkins told reporters.
Prime Minister Theresa May vowed “terrorists will not prevail”. The Islamic State jihadist group claimed responsibility for the attack, which came just over two weeks before Britain votes in a general election and is the latest in a series of deadly incidents across Europe.
Those incidents, including vehicle-borne assaults in Berlin and Stockholm, have coincided with an offensive on IS redoubts in Syria and Iraq by US, British and other Western forces.
Threatening more attacks, IS said in a statement published on its social media channels: “One of the caliphate’s soldiers placed bombs among the crowds.”
The attack came at the conclusion of US pop star Ariana Grande’s concert late Monday at the Manchester Arena, one of Europe’s largest indoor venues.
Witnesses described the horror when the suicide bomber blew himself up and anguished parents appealed for information on their loved ones, as Mancunians opened their doors to shelter people lost in the confusion, and taxi drivers offered free rides.
“When we left, down the stairs there was probably early teenagers lying on the floor covered in blood and blood on the walls where they’d been laid, so it was just horrifying,” female concert-goer Alex Grayson told AFP.
Police staged an armed raid on a Manchester address believed to be where Abedi lived, carrying out a controlled explosion to gain entry after arresting a 23-year-old man earlier Tuesday in connection with the attack.
“A single terrorist detonated his improvised explosive device near one of the exits of the venue, deliberately choosing the time and place to cause maximum carnage and to kill and injure indiscriminately,” May said after an emergency ministerial meeting.
She said during a visit to Manchester that police would look at the security of such venues, while the government would also review police resources.
Some at the concert said there had been no security checks when they entered, and police promised extra measures at setpiece events coming up such as Saturday’s FA Cup football final.
Campaigning for the June 8 election was suspended by the main parties after the attack and May insisted the country stood tall as defiant chants broke out at a vigil held in central Manchester on Tuesday evening.
– ‘Broken’ –
Screaming fans, many of them teenagers, fled the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena in panic after the explosion at the end of Monday’s performance by the 23-year-old Grande, a former child television star who described herself as “broken” by the attack.
US President Donald Trump and European leaders issued vows of defiance and stars from the worlds of music and football such as former Manchester United player David Beckham expressed their condolences.
Eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos and teenager Georgina Callander were among the first of the 22 victims to be confirmed.
Another 59 people were taken to hospital, many with life-threatening conditions.
Police said the blast occurred in the foyer of the arena, a covered area which links the auditorium to Manchester’s Victoria Station, a major train and tram hub.
Witnesses reported seeing bodies on the floor after the blast around 10:30pm (2130 GMT) on Monday, and some fans were trampled as panicked crowds tried to flee the venue.
Families were separated, with dozens of young people taken to nearby hotels overnight, and some parents were still desperately searching for their children on Tuesday.
“I’m just hearing nothing — her phone’s dead,” Charlotte Campbell, whose 15-year-old daughter Olivia was at the concert, told BBC radio.
The attack was the deadliest in Britain since July 7, 2005 when four suicide bombers inspired by Al-Qaeda attacked London’s transport system during rush hour, killing 52 people and wounding 700 more.
It revived memories of the November 2015 attack at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in which armed men wearing explosive belts stormed in and killed 90 people.
That attack was also claimed by IS, as was one in March by a knifeman at the gates of the British parliament — although police downplayed that claim.
– Queen’s anguish –
Queen Elizabeth II condemned the Manchester attack as an “act of barbarity” and observed a minute’s silence at a Buckingham Palace garden reception.
Trump said during a visit to Bethlehem: “So many young, beautiful, innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers.”
The Eiffel Tower’s lights were to be turned off at midnight Tuesday in homage to the victims, while the Cannes film festival also observed a minute’s silence.
Britain’s national terror threat level has been “severe”, the second-highest of five levels meaning an attack is highly likely, since August 2014, and May said this would remain unchanged, but under review.
In a city famed globally for its musical traditions and football teams, showbusiness stars and teams joined in to express their shock at the carnage.
“We are deeply shocked by last night’s terrible events,” said Manchester United.
A support centre for people caught up in the attack was set up at the Etihad Stadium, the home of their rivals Manchester City.
Britain’s third biggest city was hit in 1996 by a massive car bomb planted at a shopping centre by Irish Republican Army paramilitaries which wounded more than 200 people.