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Britain raises threat level to ‘critical’

MANCHESTER, England British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday night raised the nation’s threat level and deployed the military to guard concerts, sports matches and other public events, saying another attack “may be imminent” following a bombing Monday night that left 22 people dead. The announcement, which takes Britain’s alert level from “severe” to its highest rating, “critical,” clears the way for thousands of British troops to take to the streets and replace police officers in guarding key sites. May announced the move after chairing an emergency meeting of her security cabinet and concluding that the attacker who carried out Monday’s bombing may have been part of a wider network that is poised to strike again. The decision, she said, was “a proportionate and sensible response to the threat that our security experts judge we face.”

The worst terrorist attack on British soil in over a decade was carried out by a 22-year-old British citizen who lived a short drive from the concert hall that he transformed from a scene of youthful merriment into a tableau of horror.

But whether Salman Abedi acted alone or with accomplices remained a question that British investigators were urgently trying to answer Tuesday night as they reckoned with an attack more sophisticated and worrisome than any seen here in years. The prospect of a wider plot, May said, was “a possibility we cannot ignore.”

The killing of 22 people many of them teens following a concert in this northern English city by American pop star Ariana Grande was claimed Tuesday by the Islamic State, which said one of its “soldiers” was responsible.

Britain Raises Threat Level To 'critical'

An armed police officer gestures to his colleague as they stand at Manchester Piccadilly railway station in Manchester, U.K., on May 23, 2017. MUST (Bloomberg photo by Matthew Lloyd)

Even as officials and experts cast doubt on the terrorist group’s assertion, however, authorities were scrambling to execute searches, arrest potential accomplices and reinforce security systems at a spectrum of public events that look newly vulnerable to attacks like Monday’s. After years of successfully fending off more-sophisticated strikes even as countries across continental Europe have fallen victim to bombings, Monday night’s carnage underscored that Britain is not immune amid a rising tide of extremist violence.

The highest priority for police, said Greater Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins, was to “establish whether [Abedi] was acting alone or as part of a network.”

Earlier he had said that Abedi executed the bombing alone and that he “was carrying an improvised explosive device, which he detonated, causing this atrocity.”

But unlike in previous high-profile attacks including one in March in which an assailant driving a speeding car ran down pedestrians on a London bridge, then stabbed to death a British police officer experts said it was unlikely that Monday’s attack had been carried out without help.

Britain Raises Threat Level To 'critical'

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

“Getting a car or a knife is easy,” said Raffaello Pantucci, a terrorism expert at the London-based Royal United Services Institute. “Making a bomb that works and goes off when you want it to go off takes preparation and practice. And it usually involves other people.”

Pantucci said British authorities “are going to try to figure out who [Abedi] knows, who he’s linked to. Did he build the bomb itself, or did someone build it and give it to him?”

If police have an answer, they did not say so publicly Tuesday. But there was ample evidence of a widening security operation, with the arrest of a 23-year-old from south Manchester in connection with the bombing. Police also carried out searches at two homes, including the house in the leafy suburban neighborhood where Abedi’s was registered as having lived. A senior European intelligence official said the attacker was a British citizen of Libyan descent. The official, who was not authorized to speak on the record and thus spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the suspect’s brother has been taken into custody. A family friend said Abedi traveled frequently between Libya and Britain. “We have an ISIS problem in Libya. We wonder whether he met people there who trained him,” said the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ISIS is another name for the Islamic State.

Britain Raises Threat Level To 'critical'

A police cordon outside Manchester Arena, where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates

Even before May’s announcement of a “critical” threat level for just the third time ever the first two came in 2006 and 2007 authorities from London to Scotland said that they would be reviewing security plans for upcoming public events. Even smaller gatherings that would not have been policed in the past may now get protection, they said.

“Over the coming days as you go to a music venue, go shopping, travel to work or head off to the fantastic sporting events, you will see more officers, including armed officers,” said Commander Jane Connors of London’s Metropolitan Police Department. May’s decision to deploy the military means the public may now see soldiers rather than police. May said the military would operate under police command. The escalation came as the nation grieved for the young victims, with thousands of people converging on Manchester’s graceful Albert Square for a vigil that was part solemn remembrance and part rally against extremism.

To roaring applause, Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham vowed that the city which has seen hardship, having been bombed relentlessly during World War II would not succumb to division or anger. A poet named Tony Walsh delivered an ode to the city titled “This Is the Place.” And in what has become a dark mainstay of life in Western Europe, passersby left candles, flowers and cards for the dead. 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 the dead was Saffie Rose Roussos, who was just 8 years old. The first victim to be publicly identified was Georgina Callander, an 18-year-old student.

Britain Raises Threat Level To 'critical'

Forensics investigators work at the entrance of the Manchester Arena, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates

Other names were expected to be released Wednesday, with authorities bracing the public for deaths among the teens and tweens who form the core of Grande’s enthusiastic fan base. The Islamic State did not give any details about the attacker or how the blast was carried out, raising doubts about the truth of its claim. 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 boasts have not been proved.

In Washington, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said Tuesday that despite the group’s statement, “we have not verified yet the connection.” He noted in a Senate hearing that “they claim responsibility for virtually every attack.”

In a speech outside 10 Downing Street, where flags were lowered to half-staff, May called the Manchester killings 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. May later visited Manchester, meeting with local authorities and signing a condolence book honoring the victims. Queen Elizabeth II, meanwhile, led guests of a garden party at Buckingham Palace in a moment of silence and issued a statement expressing 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.

Across the world, other leaders expressed revulsion and scorn toward the bomber. 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.”

Britain Raises Threat Level To 'critical'

A woman lays flowers for the victims of the Manchester Arena attack, in central Manchester, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Staples

Organizers of the Cannes Film Festival denounced the 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. 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.

And as with that attack, Monday’s bombing prompted desperate searches for missing loved ones that continued through the night and into Tuesday. 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 Monday night while she was 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. 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, although 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,” said Harrison, 44. In France, the scene of several terrorist attacks in recent years, Prime Minister douard Philippe called on people to be vigilant in the face of “a threat which is more present than ever before.”

Britain’s threat level had been classified as “severe” since the summer of 2014, meaning the chance of an attack at any given time was highly likely.

Pantucci, the security expert, said that authorities had disrupted several plots in recent months but that Monday’s attack somehow slipped through. Understanding why, he said, will be crucial.

“They’ve been dealing with a very high threat tempo,” he said. “But this is one they weren’t able to stop.”

Adam reported from London. Isaac Stanley-Becker, James McAuley and Rick Noack in Manchester; Paul Schemm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Devlin Barrett, Brian Murphy and Ellen Nakashima in Washington contributed to this report.

ISIS claims responsibility for concert blast that killed 22 in England

MANCHESTER, England The Islamic State claimed Tuesday one of its “soldiers” carried out a deadly blast in Manchester that killed at least 22 people, including teenagers and others streaming out of a pop concert. The Islamic State statement did not give any details about the attacker or how the blast was carried out late Monday. The 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.

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 of Downing Street, where flags are flying at half mast. She called it among the worst terrorist incidents in Britain and “the worst ever to hit the north of England.”

Authorities believe they know the identity of the assailant, she added, “but at this stage of their investigations, we cannot confirm his name.”

In a statement, the Greater Manchester Police said that they arrested a 23-year-old man in south Manchester in connection with the attack as hundreds of police swarmed through the city in the aftermath of the blast.

ISIS Claims Responsibility For Concert Blast That Killed 22 In England

Police stand outside a residential property near where a man was arrested in the Chorlton area of Manchester, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Authorities are trying to determine if the suicide bomber acted alone or was part of a larger network. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which injured 59 others.

“We believe at this stage the attack last night was conducted by one man,” said Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins at a televised news conference. “We believe the attacker was carrying an improvised explosive device, which he detonated, causing this atrocity.”

Messages of support poured in from around the world, including from President Trump.

“We stand in absolute solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom,” he said at a news conference in Bethlehem, and called those responsible “evil losers in life.”

The bombing appeared intended to inflict the maximum possible damage on young concertgoers many of them in their early teens who were making their way out of the Manchester Arena. Police said the blast occurred about 10:30 p.m., minutes after pop star Ariana Grande had finished her set. The explosion set off a panicked reaction as fans struggled to flee and parents and teens searched for one another amid the carnage. Well into Tuesday morning, fathers and mothers who had lost contact with their children posted desperate pleas for information on social media using the hashtag #ManchesterMissing.

ISIS Claims Responsibility For Concert Blast That Killed 22 In England

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

Charlotte Campbell told the BBC on Tuesday morning that she’s “phoning everybody,” including hospitals and centers 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,” she said in an emotional interview. 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.”

He said that Manchester is “grieving today, but we are strong.”

It is 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, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe called on people to be vigilant in the face of “a threat which is more present than ever before.”

Britain has been on high alert for a major attack for several years, with authorities saying that a mass-casualty attack was likely.

ISIS Claims Responsibility For Concert Blast That Killed 22 In England

A police cordon outside Manchester Arena, where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates

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.”

Cellphone video showed chaotic scenes of people screaming and running in the aftermath of the blast. Concertgoers said that they saw nuts and bolts littering the ground near the blast scene and that the smell of explosives hung in the air. The local hospital, Wythenshawe, said it was dealing with “mass casualties.” Eight other hospitals across the region were activated to treat the injured, and emergency supplies of blood were rushed in. Fans of Grande had come from across northern England to see the concert. On Twitter, people offered a place to stay for those stranded in the city, using the hashtag #RoomForManchester.

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.”

ISIS Claims Responsibility For Concert Blast That Killed 22 In England

Forensics investigators work at the entrance of the Manchester Arena, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates

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 arena is one of the largest indoor venues in Europe and has a capacity of 21,000. The attack took place near one of the exits of the facility, in a public space. Jake Taylor, a former security guard at the arena, said its layout makes absolute safety impossible, as it is housed in the bustling Victoria train station.

“You can’t stop people from getting through the train station,” said Taylor, 26.

Mark Harrison, who accompanied his 12-year-old daughter to the concert from Cumbria in northern England, said there weren’t 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,” said Harrison, 44. 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 extreme carnage after multiple gunmen burst in during a show by the American rock band Eagles of Death Metal and began shooting. The attack for which the Islamic State later asserted responsibility killed 89 people and injured hundreds more, becoming the deadliest event on French soil since World War II.

ISIS Claims Responsibility For Concert Blast That Killed 22 In England

A woman lays flowers for the victims of the Manchester Arena attack, in central Manchester, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Staples

Britain has had fewer terrorist attacks in recent years than several of its European neighbors. 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 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. The two assailants, who were convicted of murder, said they were acting to avenge the killing of Muslims by British soldiers. Monday’s blast comes with just over two weeks to go before Britain holds 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.

Adam reported from London. The Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker in Manchester contributed to this report.

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Saying he’s treated ‘unfairly,’ Trump gears up to fight

Nation/World[1]

  • Saying He's Treated 'unfairly,' Trump Gears Up To FightAuthor: Glenn Thrush, Maggie Haberman, The New York Times
  • Saying He's Treated 'unfairly,' Trump Gears Up To Fight Updated: 1 hour ago
  • Saying He's Treated 'unfairly,' Trump Gears Up To Fight Published 1 hour ago

President Donald Trump speaks during commencement ceremonies at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., May 17, 2017. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

NEW LONDON, Conn. An embattled President Donald Trump used a commencement address to the Coast Guard Academy to defend himself on Wednesday, telling graduating cadets that no leader in history had been treated more “unfairly” by the news media and Washington elites. Trump began his speech with a tribute to the service’s efforts to stop drug dealers on domestic waterways and the open seas. But he quickly changed the subject to himself, signaling that he was gearing up for a fight after a week of damaging disclosures, capped by the revelation that he had pressured James B. Comey, the former FBI director, to drop the bureau’s investigation[2] into the president’s first national security adviser.

“You will find things are not always fair,” said Trump, blurring the lines between an inspirational, forward-looking commencement speech and talk about himself, much as he did at a commencement address to students at Liberty University in Virginia on Saturday.

“You have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight,” Trump said, offering his personal credo, before switching to an explicit theme of self-defense. “Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history, and I say with surety, has been treated worse, more unfairly.”

When the audience applauded, Trump whom aides have described as frustrated and defiant as controversy has engulfed the White House in recent days smiled and told people to stand by their beliefs.

“You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams,” he said.

“I guess that’s why I won,” Trump added. Trump, dressed in a dark suit under a baking sun, read his speech from teleprompters, although he occasionally veered off script to extol the virtues of the Coast Guard. At times, he expressed what seemed like wide-eyed wonderment at its exploits on the high seas and nation’s waterways.

“To secure our borders from drug cartels, human smugglers and terrorist threats, Coast Guard cutters patrol more than 1,500 miles below our southern border,” he said, adding, to the mild bafflement of a friendly crowd, “A lot of people didn’t know that.”

The crowd seemed to approve of the president’s speech, cheering for him and sometimes offering a standing ovation. But in the bus lines in the parking area after the ceremony, some relatives of graduates complained that Trump had struck a “me-note” with his speech. It was the president’s first public appearance since The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Comey had written a memo in February in which he said the president had asked him to close an investigation into Michael T. Flynn, who had been pushed out the day before as Trump’s national security adviser. Trump did not wave to reporters as he boarded Air Force One for his flight to Connecticut. But he appeared with a smile and a salute as he walked along a processional to the dais at the Coast Guard Academy’s football field.

Presidents have often used speeches to the nation’s service academies to lay out important foreign policy principles. In 2002, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush used a commencement speech at the U.S. Military Academy to declare his policy of pre-emption, under which the United States pledged to attack any country that posed a critical threat to the American homeland. In 2014, also at West Point, President Barack Obama told graduating cadets that the United States would rely on local partners to fight counterinsurgency wars in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, rather than committing large numbers of U.S. troops.

Trump used this speech to describe his coming foreign trip, which his new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, said would focus on a message of unity to the Muslim world. In his Coast Guard address, Trump invoked the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” and said it was important to stamp it out. Ahead of a meeting with NATO partners in Brussels, he reiterated his call to make allies pay their share for defense.

The president’s comments at the ceremony were in contrast to more somber remarks from Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, the Coast Guard commandant, and John F. Kelly, secretary of Homeland Security, about the significance of leadership, character and the rule of law.

“With national security also comes public trust, and the two of those are interwoven,” Zukunft said. “You don’t have both of those unless you have leaders of character.”

Kelly repeatedly referred to the United States as a nation of laws and urged the graduates to focus on protecting the ideals of the U.S. constitution.

“Tell the truth to your seniors,” said Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general. “Even if it’s uncomfortable.”

Maggie Haberman reported from New London, Connecticut, and Glenn Thrush from Washington. Mark Landler contributed reporting from Washington.

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References

  1. ^ Nation/World (www.adn.com)
  2. ^ to drop the bureau’s investigation (www.adn.com)
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