LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May vowed on Tuesday that “terrorists will not prevail” hours after 22 people, including an eight-year-old girl, were killed at a packed pop concert in a suicide bombing claimed by the militant Islamic State (IS) group.
Britain’s worst terrorist bloodshed for more than a decade came just over two weeks before it votes in general elections, and after a series of deadly militant attacks across Europe.
Witnesses described the horror when the suicide bomber blew himself up as youngsters streamed out of the concert by US star Ariana Grande at one of Europe’s largest indoor venues in Manchester. The audience was predominantly made up of young girls.
“There were fathers carrying their little girls in tears. People were pushing down the stairs. It was just... chaos,” Sebastian Diaz, 19, from Newcastle, told AFP.
Twenty-two killed, 59 injured as suicide explosion hits music concert
The prime minister said the bomber was believed to have acted alone. However, police arrested a 23-year-old man on Tuesday morning in connection with the attack.
Manchester police chief Ian Hopkins identified the suspected bomber as 22-year-old Salman Abedi, reportedly of Libyan descent. British election rolls listed him as living in a modest house in a mixed suburb of Manchester where police performed a controlled explosion in the afternoon.
“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,” Ms May said after an emergency ministerial meeting.
Threatening more attacks, the IS said in a statement published on its social media channels: “One of the caliphate’s soldiers placed bombs among the crowds.”
The British prime minister 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. We will not let the terrorists win, our values will prevail.”
Condemning the attack as horrific, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Harun Khan, said: “May the perpetrators face the full weight of justice both in this life and the next.”
Screaming fans, many of them teenagers, fled the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena in panic after the explosion at the end of the concert by the 23-year-old Grande, a former child TV star who described herself as “broken” by the attack.
Imran Haq from Leeds described how he was outside the concert hall waiting for his partner and 12-year-old daughter when he saw screaming people running out of the hall. “I bought the tickets last November as a Christmas present for my daughter,” he said. “She has been so excited counting the days down… then some idiot comes and does what he has done.” Both his loved ones survived.
United States 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 wounded, 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 at around 10.30pm 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.
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 the IS, as was one in March at London’s Westminster Bridge, 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 redoubts in Syria and Iraq by US, British and other Western forces.
Queen Elizabeth condemned the Manchester attack as an “act of barbarity” and President 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 on Tuesday in homage to the victims, while the Cannes film festival observed a minute’s silence.
A support centre for people caught up in the attack was set up at Etihad Stadium, the home of football team Manchester City, which is next door to the venue.
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2017