The British Police yesterday identified the suicide bomber who killed 22 people, including children, in an attack on a crowded concert hall in Manchester, and said they were trying to establish whether he had acted alone or with help from others.
The man suspected of carrying out Britain’s deadliest bombing in nearly 12 years was named as Salman Abedi, aged 22, but the police declined to give further details about him.
United States (U.S.) security sources, citing British intelligence officials, said he was born in Manchester in 1994 to parents of Libyan origin. He is believed to have travelled by train from London before the attack, they said.
“Our priority, along with the police counter-terrorism network and our security partners, is to continue to establish whether he was acting alone or working as part of a wider network”, Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said.
The attacker set off his improvised bomb as crowds streamed out of the Manchester Arena after a pop concert by Ariana Grande, a U.S. singer who is especially popular with teenage girls.
“All acts of terrorism are cowardly,” Prime Minister Theresa May, said outside her Downing Street Office after a meeting with security and intelligence chiefs.
She went on: “But this attack stands out for its appalling sickening cowardice, deliberately targeting innocent, defenceless children and young people who should have been enjoying one of the most memorable nights of their lives.”
Islamic State (ISIS), now being driven from territories in Syria and Iraq by Western-backed armed forces, claimed responsibility for what it called a revenge attack against “Crusaders”, but there appeared to be contradictions in its account of the operation.
The police raided houses in Manchester and arrested a 23-year-old man.
Witnesses related the horror of the blast, which unleashed a stampede just as the concert ended at Europe’s largest indoor arena, full to its capacity of 21,000.
“We ran and people were screaming around us and pushing on the stairs to go outside and people were falling down, girls were crying, and we saw these women being treated by paramedics having open wounds on their legs … it was just chaos,” said Sebastian Diaz, 19. “It was literally just a minute after it ended, the lights came on and the bomb went off.”
A video posted on Twitter showed fans, many of them young, screaming and running from the venue. Dozens of parents frantically searched for their children, posting photos and pleading for information on social media.
Singer Grande, 23, said on Twitter she was devastated: “broken from the bottom of my heart, I am so so sorry. I don’t have words.”
The attack was the deadliest in the UK since four British Muslims killed 52 people in suicide bombings on London’s transport system in 2005. But it will have reverberations far beyond British shores.
Attacks in cities including Paris, Nice, Brussels, St Petersburg, Berlin and London have shocked Europeans already anxious over security challenges from mass immigration and pockets of domestic Islamist radicalism. ISIS has repeatedly called for attacks as retaliation for Western involvement in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
While claiming responsibility on its Telegram account, the group appeared to contradict the police description of a suicide bomber. It suggested explosive devices were placed “in the midst of the gatherings of the Crusaders”.
“What comes next will be more severe on the worshippers of the cross”, the Telegram posting said.
It did not name the bomber, as it usually does in attacks it has ordered, and appeared also to contradict a posting on another Islamic State account, Amaq, which spoke of “a group of attackers”. That reference, however, was later removed.