By Ben Flanagan
The Islamic State (Daesh) has claimed responsibility for Monday’s deadly bombing of a concert at the Manchester Arena in the UK, in which at least 22 people were killed.
British authorities have identified the suspected suicide bomber as Salman Abedi, according to US officials quoted by AP.
The attack, which targeted a show by US singer Ariana Grande, involved explosives planted at the arena, according to a statement by the terror group posted on Telegram.
Daesh said “a soldier of the caliphate planted bombs in the middle of Crusaders gatherings,” then detonated them. It did not say whether the attacker was killed.
British police earlier said they believed that the attack was carried out by a lone suicide bomber who was also killed in the blast.
Daesh also claimed that “30 Crusaders were killed and 70 others were wounded,” higher than the totals confirmed by authorities in Manchester.
The US’ top intelligence official said however that the US government has not yet verified that Daesh was responsible for the attack.
Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told Congress that the extremist group frequently claims responsibility for terror attacks.
Daesh operational involvement ‘not clear’
Terrorism expert Lee Marsden, a professor at the University of East Anglia in the UK, said it was not yet clear whether Daesh had any direct involvement in the Manchester bombing.
But he said attacks of this nature are likely to become more frequent as the extremist terror group loses ground in the Middle East.
Daesh has “claimed responsibility, as has been a consistent pattern with attacks in the West. However, what is less clear is whether the organization had any operational involvement in the attack or whether they inspired the suicide bomber concerned through calling for attacks through any means available,” Marsden told Arab News.
“As Daesh is facing defeat in Iraq and Syria and foreign fighters return home then the propensity for such attacks is likely to increase. In Britain, terror attacks have largely been perpetrated by British citizens and the ongoing activity by police in the Manchester area may reflect a local connection. Although it is clearly too early and inappropriate to speculate.”
Europe has seen several “low-tech” terror attacks, such as the incident in March in which 52-year-old Briton Khalid Masood drove a car into pedestrians on the pavement along the south side of Westminster Bridge.
But the use of explosives and suicide bombings on the British mainland, though rare, have “been flagged up as increasingly likely” as British men and women return home after fighting for Daesh in Syria, Marsden said.
“The sophistication of this latest terror incident reveals the difficulties of trying to combat either tight cells of terrorist operatives or lone-wolf attacks. Although police have made one arrest, it is too early to say the extent to which this was an organised and coordinated attack,” he said. “Large gatherings of people without a strong police or security presence affords an easy target for those wishing to advance their cause through inflicting maximum casualties.”
‘A callous terrorist attack’
The British Prime Minister Theresa May called the bombing a “callous terrorist attack… that targeted some of the youngest people in our society.” The first victims to be named were teenager Georgina Callander and 8-year-old Saffie Roussos, according to Sky News.
Speaking on Tuesday morning in London, May said that many of the 59 people injured are being “treated for life-threatening conditions.”
Police said the apparent suicide attack is believed to have been carried out by one person with an improvised explosive device, who was also killed in the blast. A 23-year-old man was arrested in South Manchester in connection with the attack, according to Sky News.
May said on Tuesday morning that “police and security services believe they know the identity of the perpetrator,” but are not disclosing the name at present. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn called the attack an “appalling act of violence.”
The attack is the deadliest terror assault on Britain since four militants killed 52 people in suicide bombings on London’s transport system in July 2005.
There was no immediate change in the UK national terror threat level, which remains at “severe,” one level below the top level, “critical,” which means that an attack is underway or imminent. May said the threat level would be assessed over the coming hours and days.
Sky News reported that the nearby Arndale Shopping Center in Manchester was evacuated on Tuesday morning, as armed police made an arrest. It was not immediately clear if the incident was related to the terror attack on Monday.
Attacker “specifically targeted kids’ concert”
Police last night responded to reports of an explosion at Manchester Arena shortly after 10:35 p.m. (2135 GMT) at the arena, which has a capacity for 21,000 people, and where Grande had been performing to an audience that included many children.
Terrorism experts said that the target of the attack — a concert popular with teenagers and children — made it distinct from other Daesh atrocities in Europe.
Peter Lehr, lecturer in Terrorism Studies at the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St. Andrews University, Scotland, said that the attacker would have been well aware that many of the victims would have been children.
“In yesterday’s attack, it was the young ones who were targeted: after all, Ariana Grande is a teen idol, attracting mainly teens as a result,” Lehr told Arab News.
“Although we don’t have enough information on the suicide bomber, I am very sure that he was aware of that, and that he chose this particular target, and this particular evening, for this very reason.”
Lehr said the Manchester bombing differed to previous attacks in Europe such as that in Paris in November 2015, which targeted people in cafes, bars, and at a heavy metal concert.
“In the Berlin Christmas market attack, (the target was again) mainly middle-aged middle class people,” he added.
A witness who attended the concert said she felt a huge blast as she was leaving the arena, followed by screaming and a rush by thousands of people trying to escape the building.
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.
“We were making our way out and when we were right by the door there was a massive explosion and everybody was screaming,” concertgoer Catherine Macfarlane told Reuters.
“It was a huge explosion — you could feel it in your chest. It was chaotic. Everybody was running and screaming and just trying to get out.”
A spokesman for Ariana Grande, 23, said the singer was “okay.”
Paula Robinson, 48, from West Dalton about 40 miles east of Manchester, said she was at the train station next to the arena with her husband when she felt the explosion and saw dozens of teenage girls screaming and running away from arena.
“We ran out,” Robinson told Reuters. “It was literally seconds after the explosion. I got the teens to run with me.”
Robinson took dozens of teenage girls to the nearby Holiday Inn Express hotel and tweeted out her phone number to worried parents, telling them to meet her there. She said her phone had not stopped ringing since her tweet.
“Parents were frantic running about trying to get to their children,” she said. “There were lots of lots children at Holiday Inn.”
US President Donald Trump condemned the “evil losers” behind the attack on Manchester Arena, saying: “I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. They would think that’s a great name.
“So many young, beautiful, innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered,” he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced “sorrow and horror,” adding: “This suspected terrorist attack will only strengthen our resolve to work with our British friends against those who plan and execute such inhuman acts. I assure the people in Britain: Germany stands by your side.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was ready to boost anti-terror cooperation with Britain after “this cynical, inhuman crime.
“We expect that those behind it will not escape the punishment they deserve,” he said.
Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, issued the following statement:
“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. I understand teenagers and children have been caught up in what the police has confirmed to be a terrorist attack. This is horrific, this is criminal. May the perpetrators face the full weight of justice both in this life and the next.
“I pay tribute to the police and emergency services who have worked valiantly to save lives last night. They were helped by civilians who rushed in to offer their support. I urge all those in the region and around the country to pool together to support those affected.”
British counter-terrorism police have said they are making on average an arrest every day in connection with suspected terrorism.
In March, a British-born convert plowed a car into pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge, killing four people before stabbing to death a police officer who was on the grounds of parliament. He was shot dead at the scene.
In 2015, a student Abid Naseer was convicted in a US court of conspiring with Al-Qaeda to blow up the Arndale shopping center in the center of Manchester in April 2009.
Manchester Arena, the largest indoor arena in Europe, opened in 1995 and is a popular concert and sporting venue.
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