Death toll rises to 22 as police assess grim aftermath of Manchester concert bombing
Eyewitnesses described a ‘huge bomb-like bang’ and scenes of panic as young fans fled the venue
At least 22 people, including some children, were killed and 59 wounded when a suicide bomber struck as thousands of fans streamed out of a concert by US singer Ariana Grande in the English city of Manchester on Monday.
Prime Minister Theresa May said the incident was being treated as a terrorist attack, making it the deadliest militant assault in Britain since four British Muslims killed 52 people in suicide bombings on London’s transport system in July 2005.
Speaking outside her offices in London, she said: “Although it is not the first time Manchester has suffered in this way, it is the worst attack the city has experienced, and the worst ever to hit the north of England.”
Britain’s third biggest city was hit in 1996 by a massive car bomb planted at a shopping centre by the Irish Liberation Army (IRA) which wounded more than 200 people.
May says police believe they know the attacker’s identity but are not disclosing it immediately.
Police said the attacker died after detonating explosives shortly after 10:33 pm (5:33am Hong Kong time) at Manchester Arena, which has the capacity to hold 21,000 people.
Some eyewitnesses said it happened after the concert ended in the foyer of the arena that links to the adjacent railway station, Mail Online reported. Children were among the dead, police said.
“We believe, at this stage, the attack last night was conducted by one man,” Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins told reporters.
“The priority is to establish whether he was acting alone or as part of a network.
“The attacker... died at the arena. We believe the attacker was carrying an improvised explosive device which he detonated causing this atrocity.”
World leaders expressed shock and horror at the suicide bombing. China’s President Xi Jinping sent his condolences to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, Chinese state media reported.
Hong Kong officials have not received reports from travellers seeking assistance, a spokesman from the Immigration Department said.
“We are still trying to find out whether any Hongkongers have been injured in the event,” he said.
The Hong Kong Travel Industry Council (TIC) said there were no Hong Kong travel tour groups attending the concert.
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 said.
“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”. The singer later said on Twitter: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.”
May, who faces an election in two-and-a-half weeks, said her thoughts were with the victims and their families. Her ruling Conservative Party was preparing to suspend campaigning ahead of the election due to the suspected attack.
“We are working to establish the full details of what is being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack,” she said in a statement.
“All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected.”
Watch: video captures chaos at Manchester Arena
May will hold a crisis response meeting on Tuesday.
Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said police were treating the blast as a terrorist incident and were working with counterterrorism police and intelligence agencies but gave no further details on their investigation.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but US officials drew parallels to the coordinated attacks in November 2015 by Islamist militants on the Bataclan concert hall and other sites in Paris, which claimed about 130 lives.
Two US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said that initial signs pointed to a suicide bomber being responsible for the blast.
“In the absence of conclusive evidence, the choice of venue, the timing and the mode of attack all suggest this was terrorism,” said a US counter terrorism official who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Islamist militant group has not claimed responsibility for the attack, although Islamic State supporters took to social media to celebrate the blast and some encouraged similar attacks elsewhere.
Britain is on its second-highest alert level of “severe”, meaning an attack by militants is considered highly likely.
The US Department of Homeland Security was monitoring the situation in Manchester closely but said it had no information to indicate a specific credible threat involving music venues in the United States.
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 to Islam ploughed 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. The man was shot dead at the scene.
In 2015, Pakistani student Abid Naseer was convicted in a US court of conspiring with al Qaeda to blow up the Arndale shopping centre in the centre of Manchester in April 2009.
Manchester Arena, the largest indoor arena in Europe, opened in 1995 and is a popular concert and sporting venue.
Desperate parents and friends used social media to search for loved ones.
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 said.
“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.”
Additional reporting by Emily Tsang