MANCHESTER, England The Islamic State claimed Tuesday that one of its “soldiers” carried out an apparent suicide bombing in Manchester that killed at least 22 people, including teenagers and others streaming out of a pop concert. Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins named the suspected attacker as 22-year-old Salman Abedi but declined to provide other details. A senior European intelligence official said the attacker was a British citizen of Libyan descent. The official said the suspect’s brother has been taken into custody.
The Islamic State’s claim came as British investigators intensified their search for possible accomplices and police teams fanned out across the northern city after the worst terrorist strike in Britain in more than a decade. The Islamic State did not give any details about the attacker or how the blast was carried out late Monday. Its statement was posted on the online messaging service Telegram and later noted by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant websites. The Islamic State often quickly proclaims links to attacks, but some previous claims have not been proven.
Police stand outside a residential property near where a man was arrested in the Chorlton area of Manchester, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
British Prime Minister Theresa May called the carnage a “callous terrorist attack.”
“This attack stands out for its appalling, sickening cowardice deliberately targeting innocent, defenseless children and young people who should have been enjoying one of the most memorable nights of their lives,” she said, speaking outside her Downing Street offices, where flags were lowered to half-staff. May later visited Manchester, meeting with local authorities and signing a condolence book honoring the victims. Queen Elizabeth II, meanwhile, expressed her “deepest sympathies.”
“The whole nation has been shocked by the death and injury in Manchester last night of so many people, adults and children, who had just been enjoying a concert,” she said in a statement released by Buckingham Palace.
Condemnations also poured in from other leaders around the world.
A youngster wearing a T-shirt showing U.S. singer Ariana Grande talks to the media near the Manchester Arena, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates
In Washington, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said Tuesday that despite the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the Manchester attack, “we have not verified yet the connection.” He noted in a Senate hearing that “they claim responsibility for virtually every attack.”
The casualties included children as young as elementary school students. Police said that among the 59 people injured, a dozen were younger than 16. Among those killed, Georgina Callander, an 18-year-old student, was the first victim to be named. British media also reported that an 8-year-old girl, Saffie Rose Roussos, could have been the youngest fatality.
“We believe at this stage the attack last night was conducted by one man,” Hopkins said at a televised news conference. “We believe the attacker was carrying an improvised explosive device, which he detonated, causing this atrocity.”
In a later appearance, Hopkins said the priority for police was to “establish whether [the assailant] was acting alone or as part of a network.”
During a visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, President Donald Trump pledged “absolute solidarity” with Britain and called those responsible for the attack “evil losers in life.”
A police cordon outside Manchester Arena, where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates
The bombing appeared intended to inflict maximum bloodshed on the young concertgoers many in their early teens who were making their way out of the Manchester Arena, one of Europe’s largest indoor venues, with a seating capacity of 21,000. The blast occurred about 10:30 p.m. Monday, minutes after pop star Ariana Grande had finished her set and many fans were gathered in the foyer to buy concert merchandise.
The explosion set off a panic as fans struggled to flee and parents and teens searched for one another amid the carnage. Parents who had lost contact with their children posted desperate pleas for information on social media using the hashtag #ManchesterMissing. Charlotte Campbell told the BBC that she was “phoning everybody,” including hospitals, trying to locate her 15-year-old daughter, Olivia. She last spoke to her daughter on Monday night at the concert.
“She’d just seen the support act and said she was having an amazing time, and thanking me for letting her go,” Campbell said in an emotional interview. The attack occurred near one of the exits of the arena, in a public space connected to a bustling train station.
Jake Taylor, a former security guard at the arena, said its layout makes absolute safety impossible.
“You can’t stop people from getting through the train station,” Taylor said.
Forensics investigators work at the entrance of the Manchester Arena, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates
Mark Harrison, who accompanied his 12-year-old daughter to the concert from Cumbria in northern England, said there were no metal detectors or body checks at the arena’s entrance, though bags were inspected and items such as water bottles had to be discarded.
“There was definitely a security presence, but anyone can come through the train station,” Harrison, 44, said. Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, called it an “evil act” but praised the “spirit of Manchester that will prevail and hold us together.”
Manchester is “grieving today, but we are strong,” he said. On Tuesday evening, a large crowd gathered in Manchester’s Albert Square for a solemn vigil honoring the victims.
The Monday night attack was the worst terrorist strike on British soil since 2005, when Islamist extremists bombed the London subway and a bus, killing 54 people. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said late Monday that there was “no information to indicate a specific credible threat involving music venues in the United States” but added that Americans may see “increased security in and around public places and events as officials take additional precautions.”
In France, the scene of several terrorist attacks over the past year, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe called on people to be vigilant in the face of “a threat which is more present than ever before.”
Organizers of the Cannes Film Festival denounced the Manchester bombing as an “attack on culture, youth and joyfulness” and observed a minute of silence Tuesday. Cannes is 15 miles from Nice, where an attacker driving a truck plowed into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in July, killing 86 people.
A woman lays flowers for the victims of the Manchester Arena attack, in central Manchester, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Staples
Britain has been on high alert for a major attack for several years, with authorities saying that a mass-casualty attack was likely. Grande, who is wildly popular both in Britain and the United States, was not injured in the attack. She expressed her sorrow in a tweet hours after the explosion, saying she was “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so sorry. i don’t have words.”
A father told the BBC that he was leaving the arena with his wife and daughter when the blast blew him through a set of doors. Afterward, the man, identified as Andy, said he saw about 30 people “scattered everywhere. Some of them looked dead.”
Separated from his wife and daughter, he said, he “looked at some of the bodies trying to find my family.”
He later found them, uninjured.
Karen Ford, a witness, told the BBC that “there were kids outside, crying on the phone, trying to find their parents.”
The scenes of bloodied, panicked concertgoers running for safety brought to mind similar images at the Bataclan theater in Paris in November 2015. The concert hall became the scene of carnage after gunmen burst in during a show by the American rock band Eagles of Death Metal and began shooting. That attack for which the Islamic State later asserted responsibility killed 89 people and injured hundreds, becoming the deadliest event on French soil since World War II. In all, 130 people were killed that night in coordinated attacks. Monday night’s blast came two months after a speeding driver left four people dead on London’s Westminster Bridge, then stabbed to death a police officer at the gates of Parliament.
Monday also was the fourth anniversary of the killing of Lee Rigby, a British soldier who was attacked with a machete on the streets of southeast London. Two assailants, who were later convicted of murder, said they were acting to avenge the killing of Muslims by British soldiers.
In just over two weeks, Britain is scheduled to hold a national election. Campaigning was suspended Tuesday, and perhaps beyond. Security has not featured as a prominent part of the debate, although that may change when campaigning resumes.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum paintings stolen 27 years ago miraculously popped up for sale in a recent Craigslist poster ad. That is, until the poster was charged with fraud. A West Virginia man was arrested Monday on fraud charges related to a scheme in which he attempted to solicit buyers via Craiglist for the stolen paintings, Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee” and Vermeer s “The Concert,” the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney s Office said in a statement.
Todd Andrew Desper, 47, went by the alias Mordokwan on the classified ad website and solicited buyers in foreign cities like Venice and London. Interested buyers were told to create an encrypted email in order to communicate with him, according to the attorney’s office. Individuals who wanted to help the recovery of the artwork, as well as those who wanted the $5 million reward offered by the museum, contacted the authorities about the Craigslist postings, officials said. The security director for the Gardner contacted Desper to see whether he really had the stolen masterpieces, according to the feds. Desper told the director to send a cashier s check for $5 million to a West Virginia location and claimed the painting “Storm on the Sea of Galilee” would be sent in return, hidden behind another artwork.
The combined value of the 13 pieces of art stolen in the infamous 1990 Gardner heist is an estimated $500 million. The investigation concluded that Desper had no access to or information about the stolen artwork and instead was conducting a multimillion dollar fraud scheme by targeting foreign art buyers, officials said. Desper was charged in federal court in Boston with wire fraud and attempted wire fraud. He was arrested at his home in Beckley, West Virginia, on Monday and held in custody overnight.
He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. He is set to appear in federal court in the District of Massachusetts on June 9. On March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers entered the Gardner Museum and tied up the security guard, proceeding to steal 13 pieces of art including Degas sketches, a Rembrandt piece and a Vermeer painting that was one of only 36 in existence. The estimated $500 million value of the stolen works makes the heist the largest property crime in U.S. history.
A North Carolina student at Hickory Ridge High School was recently suspended for wearing a shirt that revealed her collarbones. The teenager, an honor roll student named Summer, told NBC Charlotte that she was sitting in the cafeteria last week when the principal of the school told her to put on a jacket because her shirt was violating the school’s dress code. The shirt partially showed her shoulders and exposed her back. Though Summer told her principal that her shirt was “fine” to wear at school, she complied with the request and put on a jacket. The principal was not satisfied with that step and asked Summer to completely change her outfit.
Instead of changing her clothes, Summer asked the principal to call her mom. According to NBC Charlotte, Summer had “a number of issues” with her principal through her high school experience, and Summer’s mother has asked the school to call her before taking any more disciplinary action against the teenager. The principal could not get a hold of Summer’s mother, so Summer went about her day.
During a school assembly later that day, the principal entered with a security guard and asked everyone to leave except for summer.
“[The security guard] was within five feet of me, he had his hand on his gun,” Summer said. “[The principal] said ‘I’m gonna give you an ultimatum. We have tried to call your mother. You either come with me to the control room to change your shirt or we will arrest you.”
Summer’s mother called moments before the security guard could handcuff the high school senior. Summer was not arrested, but Yahoo reported she was given a 10-day suspension from school and was banned from all senior activities including her own high school graduation. Right before the security guard could handcuff the high school senior, Summer’s mother called.
Summer told NBC Charlotte that she believes the principal is still thinking about expelling her.
“It’s just sad because I worked so hard for four years to walk across that stage,” she said. “We have drug dealers walking across that stage, we have sex offenders walking across that stage and then the 4.4 (GPA) student who showed her shoulders can’t.”