Members of Manchester bomber’s network ‘may still be at large’

British interior minister Amber Rudd has said the operation to find all those working with Salman Abedi 'is still really at full tilt in a way'.

MANCHESTER // Members of the Manchester suicide bomber’s network are still potentially at large, British interior minister Amber Rudd said on Sunday, after the terrorism threat level was lowered due to significant progress in the investigation.

Police say they have arrested a large part of the network behind the bombing, which killed 22 people at a concert venue on Monday last week. Two more men – aged 20 and 22 – were arrested in north Manchester early on Saturday as police continued to close in on the group.

Asked during a BBC interview whether some of the group were still at large, Ms Rudd said: “Potentially. It is an ongoing operation. There are 11 people in custody, the operation is still really at full tilt in a way.”

Along with the 11 suspects in UK custody, police in Libya have detained Abedi’s father and younger brother.

Ms Rudd’s comments came after British police released CCTV footage of Manchester bomber Salman Abedi on the night of the attack, and as thousands took part in the Great Manchester Run.

Security was tight as 40,000 runners pounded the northwestern English city’s streets on Sunday in the annual half marathon (21.1 kilometres), a day after prime minister Theresa May lowered the terrorist threat level, which was raised to the highest level following Monday’s killings.

Investigators gave details of Abedi’s last hours as they released photographs from security cameras showing the black-clad suicide bomber wearing jeans and trainers, a black body warmer and baseball cap, the straps of his backpack visible on his shoulders.

The 22-year-old was of Libyan origin and born in Manchester.

Police said one of the last places he went to was a “city centre flat and from there he left to make his way to the Manchester Arena” where the attack took place.

“The flat is highly relevant as a location which we believe may be the final assembly place for the device,” police added.

Two unarmed police officers remained on guard outside the entrance to Granby House, believed to contain the flat in question.

“It is surprising because these people are just under your nose and you don’t know it,” said Harpreet Lota, a resident walking past the building.

A third of those killed in Monday’s bombing were children, while another 116 people were injured.

The attack, which has been claimed by ISIL, targeted young fans at the end of a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande.

Explaining the decision to reduce the terrorist threat level from critical to severe, Mrs May said troops would also be withdrawn from the streets, another measure adopted after the bombing.

“We should be clear about what this means: a threat level of severe means an attack is highly likely, the country should remain vigilant,” she said.

Operation Temperer, which involved the deployment of troops on patrol alongside police, will be wound down on Monday night, at the end of the UK’s bank holiday weekend.

“From midnight on Monday, there will be a well-planned and gradual withdrawal of members of the armed forces, who will return to normal duties,” she said.

There was a visible police presence as runners gathered on the start line for the Manchester run on Sunday morning.

Competitors fell silent as the clock struck 9am, when the race was scheduled to start. This was followed by sustained applause as the Oasis song Don't Look Back In Anger played over loudspeaker, sparking a sing-a-long.

“After everything that’s happened in Manchester, to get everyone to come together, stand united, don’t let them win, that’s why I’m doing it,” said runner Ian McLellan, 45.

Mrs May has seen her party’s polling lead over the main opposition Labour Party dwindle as campaigning restarted ahead of a June 8 general election, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accusing her of overseeing a cut in police staff while she was interior minister.

Between 2009 and 2016, the number of police officers fell by almost 20,000, or around 14 per cent, according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank.

Mrs May argues, however, that the government has increased funding for security and intelligence agencies.

Authorities are handling 500 terrorism-related investigations into 3,000 individuals, with another 20,000 people on the radar posing a “residual risk”.

Mrs May attempted to hit back late on Saturday, announcing the new Commission for Countering Extremism, saying that “enough is enough – we need to be stronger and more resolute in standing up to these people”.

The commission will have a legal responsibility to identify extremism and will advise the government about what policies and laws to enact in order to defeat extremists.

* Agence France-Presse and Reuters