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, killing 22 including an eight-year-old girl.
Manchester police identified the suspect as 22-year-old Salman Abedi, but declined to give any further details. British media said he was born in the north western English city and that his Libyan parents had fled the regime of dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Prime Minister Theresa May vowed “terrorists will not prevail”, after the Islamic State jihadist group claimed responsibility for the attack at the conclusion of US pop star Ariana Grande’s concert late Monday at the Manchester Arena, one of Europe’s largest indoor venues.
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.”
Manchester police chief constable Ian Hopkins told reporters: “The priority remains to establish whether he was acting alone or as part of a network.”
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.
“There were fathers carrying their little girls in tears. People were pushing down the stairs. It was just… chaos,” Sebastian Diaz, a 19-year-old from Newcastle, told AFP.
Britain’s worst terror bloodshed for more than a decade came just over two weeks before the country votes in a general election, and after a series of deadly jihadist attacks across Europe. Police staged an armed raid on a Manchester address believed to be linked to Abedi, 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.
But while campaigning for the June 8 election was suspended by the main parties after the attack, she insisted: “The terrorists will not prevail.”
Screaming fans, many of them teenagers, fled the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena in panic after the explosion at the end of the 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 a 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 Victoria Station, a 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.
Other recent attacks in Europe have included vehicles driven into crowds in Berlin and Stockholm, coinciding with an offensive on IS holdouts in Syria and Iraq by US, British and other Western forces.
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.