Sunday 23 July 2017

British troops on streets to foil new attack

  • Terror threat raised to critical
  • Death toll now stands at 22
  • Vigil for dead in Manchester
A woman hands out flowers during a vigil in Albert Square in Manchester, last night. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A woman hands out flowers during a vigil in Albert Square in Manchester, last night. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Jill Lawless and Rob Harris

Up to 5,000 soldiers will be deployed on the streets amid fears that the Manchester suicide bomber had accomplices preparing further attacks, Theresa May announced last night.

For the first time in 10 years, the prime minister raised the terror threat to the highest possible level, from severe to critical, meaning an attack is "expected imminently".

Investigators fear that the British-born bomber Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old of Libyan descent, was part of a wider network of Isil-inspired terrorists, including a bomb-maker, who may still be at large.

Special Forces were last night deployed to Manchester ready to engage in the hunt for accomplices of Abedi, who killed 22 concert-goers in Britain's worst terrorist atrocity for 12 years.

Outlining the increased risk, Mrs May said: "It is a possibility we cannot ignore that there is a wider group of individuals linked to this attack."

Mrs May also announced that troops would replace police officers at set-piece events including sports venues and concerts.

It will be the first time since 2003 - when the Government reacted to a plot to bring down an airliner - that troops are deployed on the streets.

With the FA Cup final this weekend, Mrs May acted on the advice of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre after chairing two meetings of the Cobra emergency committee.

Security will also be stepped up at major public events and terrorist targets such as railway stations and airports.

Read more: Official terror threat level raised to critical after Manchester terror attack

Messages and floral tributes are seen in Albert Square in Manchester. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Messages and floral tributes are seen in Albert Square in Manchester. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

It is the first time Britain has been on maximum terrorist alert since 2007, when a blazing car loaded with gas canisters was driven into Glasgow Airport.

British police yesterday identified the suicide bomber who killed 22 people, including children, in the 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 police declined to give further details about him.

US 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.

Messages and floral tributes are seen in Albert Square in Manchester. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Messages and floral tributes are seen in Albert Square in Manchester. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

"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 US singer especially popular with teenage girls.

Isil, 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.

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."

People light candles set up in front of floral tributes in Albert Square in Manchester. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
People light candles set up in front of floral tributes in Albert Square in Manchester. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

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.

People pause in front of candles set up in front of floral tributes in Albert Square in Manchester. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
People pause in front of candles set up in front of floral tributes in Albert Square in Manchester. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

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.

Isil 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.

Read more: What we know about Salman Abedi, the man named as Manchester suicide bomber

It did not name the bomber, as it usually does in attacks it has ordered, and appeared also to contradict a posting on another Isil account, Amaq, which spoke of "a group of attackers". That reference, however, was later removed.

The England flag is held up as people hold a minutes silence during a vigil for the victims of yesterday's Manchester Arena terror attack in Trafalgar Square in London. Photo: GETTY
The England flag is held up as people hold a minutes silence during a vigil for the victims of yesterday's Manchester Arena terror attack in Trafalgar Square in London. Photo: GETTY

Mrs May said security services were working to see if a wider group was involved in the attack, which fell less than three weeks before a national election. Campaigning was suspended as a mark of respect.

Manchester remained on high alert, with additional armed police drafted in, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan said more police had been ordered onto the streets of the British capital.

Police raided a property in the Manchester district of Fallowfield where they carried out a controlled explosion.

Yesterday evening thousands of people attended a vigil in central Manchester in sombre, but defiant mood.

"There's hard times again in these streets of our city, but we won't take defeat and we don't want your pity, because this is the place where we stand strong together with a smile on our face, Mancunians forever," local poet Tony Walsh said in a poem he read to the crowd that drew loud cheers and applause.

British police do not routinely carry firearms, but London police said extra armed officers would be deployed at this weekend's soccer final at Wembley and rugby final at Twickenham. Security would be reviewed also for smaller events.

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in World News