MANCHESTER // Investigators hunted on Tuesday for possible accomplices of the suicide bomber who killed 22 people when he attacked an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
Police identified 22-year-old Salman Abedi – reportedly British-born of Libyan descent – as the suspect who detonated his explosives in the foyer of the Manchester Arena as the crowd of mostly teenage fans started to leave late on Monday.
Among the victims was eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos and a teenager, Georgina Callander, who had posed for a picture with US pop singer Grande at a previous concert. Another 59 people were taken to hospital, many with life-threatening conditions.
Prime Minister Theresa May vowed “terrorists will not prevail” and campaigning for the UK election was suspended as a mark of respect for the victims.
ISIL said the attacker was one of its militants but provided no evidence to back up the claim.
Manchester police chief constable Ian Hopkins said: “The priority remains to establish whether he was acting alone or as part of a network.”
British media said Abedi was born in Manchester and that his Libyan parents had fled the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
Witnesses described the horror when the suicide bomber blew himself up causing the young crowd to stampede for the exits.
The attack sparked a nightlong search for loved-ones – parents for the children they had accompanied or had been waiting to pick up, and friends for each other after groups were scattered by the blast. Twitter and Facebook lit up with heartbreaking appeals for the missing.
Mancunians opened their doors to shelter people lost in the confusion, hotels offered refuge and taxi drivers gave free rides to get people home after public transport was halted.
“There were fathers carrying their little girls in tears. People were pushing down the stairs. It was just ... chaos,” said Sebastian Diaz, a 19-year-old from Newcastle.
Witnesses said the blast scattered bolts and other bits of metal, intended to maximise injuries and deaths.
“There was this massive bang. And then everyone just went really quiet. And that’s when the screaming started,” said 25-year-old Ryan Molloy. “As we came outside to Victoria Station, there were just people all over the floor covered in blood. My partner was helping to try to stem the blood from this one person ... they were pouring blood from their leg. It was just awful.”
The attack was Britain’s worst terror bloodshed for more than a decade and came just over two weeks before the country votes in a general election, and after a series of deadly extremist attacks across Europe.
Police staged an armed raid on a Manchester address believed to be linked to Abedi, carrying out a controlled explosion to gain entry after arresting a 23-year-old man earlier on Tuesday in connection with the attack.
“We understand that feelings are very raw right now and people are bound to be looking for answers,” chief constable Hopkins said. “However, now, more than ever, it is vital that our diverse communities in Greater Manchester stand together and do not tolerate hate.”
Speaking after an emergency ministerial meeting, Ms May said: “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,”
She said during a visit to Manchester that police would look at the security of such venues, while the government would also review police resources.
Screaming fans, many of them teenagers, fled the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena in panic after the explosion at the end of the performance by the 23-year-old Grande, a former child television star who described herself as “broken” by the attack.
“From the bottom of my heart, I am so so sorry. I don’t have words,” she wrote on Twitter.
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.
Police said the blast occurred in the foyer of the arena, a covered area which links the auditorium, one of the world’s largest indoor concert venues, to Victoria Station, a train and tram hub.
Witnesses reported seeing bodies on the floor after the blast around 10.30pm UK time 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.
“I’m just hearing nothing – her phone’s dead,” Charlotte Campbell, whose 15-year-old daughter Olivia was at the concert, told BBC radio.
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 ISIL, as was one in March by a knifeman at the gates of the British parliament – although police downplayed that claim.
Queen Elizabeth II condemned the Manchester attack as an “act of barbarity” and observed a minute’s silence at a Buckingham Palace garden reception.
Mr 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 Tuesday in homage to the victims, while the Cannes film festival also observed a minute’s silence.
Britain’s national terror threat level has been “severe”, the second-highest of five levels meaning an attack is highly likely, since August 2014, and May said this would remain unchanged, but under review.
In a city famed globally for its musical traditions and football teams, show business stars and teams joined in to express their shock at the carnage.
“We are deeply shocked by last night’s terrible events,” said Manchester United.
A support centre for people caught up in the attack was set up at the Etihad Stadium, the home of their rivals Manchester City.
Britain’s third biggest city was hit in 1996 by a massive car bomb planted at a shopping centre by Irish Republican Army paramilitaries which wounded more than 200 people.
*Agence France-Presse and Associated Press