Islamic State claims responsibility for Manchester concert attack while Prime Minister Theresa May says identity of bomber is known
While 22 people have been confirmed dead, many of the 59 people injured have life-threatening conditions
Islamic State claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a bombing in the British city of Manchester that killed 22 people, including children, at a concert.
The group said in a statement published on its social media channels that “one of the caliphate’s soldiers placed bombs among the crowds,” and it threatened more attacks.
The group’s self-styled news agency Amaq separately claimed “a security squad” carried out the attack.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said police know the identity of the bomber, who died in the blast late Monday, and believed he acted alone.
However, police arrested a 23-year-old man on Tuesday morning in connection with the attack.
Screaming fans, many of them teenagers, fled the venue in panic after the explosion at the end of a sold-out concert by US star Ariana Grande in the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena, in northwestern England.
“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,” May said in a statement outside Downing Street after an emergency ministerial meeting.
May chaired a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee, which brings together ministers and security officials, at 9am in London and was scheduled to chair another one later in the day. The terrorism threat level remains at severe.
The blast occurred in the foyer of the indoor arena, a covered area which links the auditorium to Victoria Station, a train and tram hub.
Witnesses reported being near the arena’s ticket machines and merchandise stores, as chaos ensued inside the concert hall.
While 22 people have been confirmed dead, many of the 59 people injured have life-threatening conditions, May said.
“We know that among those killed and injured were many children and young people,” the prime minister added.
US security sources, citing British intelligence officials, said the was born in Manchester in 1994 to parents of Libyan origin. He is believed to have travelled by train from London before the attack, they said.
“Our priority, along with the police counter-terrorism network and our security partners, is to continue to establish whether he was acting alone or working as part of a wider network,” Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing bodies on the floor after the blast around 10.30pm on Monday, and some fans were trampled as panicked crowds tried to flee the venue.
“There were fathers carrying their little girls in tears,” said Sebastian Diaz, a 19-year-old from Newcastle.
Families were separated, with dozens of young people taken to nearby hotels overnight, and some parents were still desperately seeking 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 first victim named was Georgina Callander, an 18-year-old from Lancashire in northwest England, whose death was announced by her college.
Andy Holey, who went to the arena to pick up his family, said the blast threw him about nine metres through a set of doors.
“When I got up and looked around there was about 30 people scattered everywhere, some of them looked dead, they might have been unconscious but there was a lot of fatalities,” he said.
Hayley Lunt took her 10-year-old daughter Abigail to the show. It was her first concert. The blast, “what sounded like gunshots: ‘bang, bang,’” came just as Grande left the stage: “It was almost like they waited for her to go,” the mother said.
“Then we just heard lots of people screaming, and we just ran,” she said. “What should have been a superb evening is now just horrible.”
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 claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.
May said it was “a callous terrorist attack”, conducted with “appalling, sickening cowardice” and Queen Elizabeth condemned it as an “act of barbarity.”
Britain’s national terror threat level has been “severe”, meaning an attack is highly likely, since August 2014, and May said this would remain unchanged, but under review.
Campaigning for the June 8 general election, in which May’s Conservatives are expected to regain power, has been suspended.
US President Donald Trump led condolences from political leaders across the globe, as well as stars from the world of music and football.
“So many young, beautiful, innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers,” Trump said during a visit to Bethlehem.
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, sent a message to the Queen expressing his sincere condolences to those killed and injured, China’s CCTV state broadcaster reported.
“The Chinese people are firmly standing together with the British people at this difficult time,” Xi said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned a “cynical, inhuman crime” and offered to boost anti-terrorism cooperation with Britain.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron also expressed condolences.
Grande, who is popular with teens and pre-teens, expressed her anguish following the attack.
“Broken. From the bottom of my heart, I am so, so sorry. I don’t have words,” the 23-year-old wrote on Twitter.
The pop world also rallied, with Katy Perry tweeting: “Praying for everyone at Ariana Grande’s show.”
US pop princess Taylor Swift, a friend of Grande, wrote: “My thoughts, prayers and tears for all those affected by the Manchester tragedy tonight.”
“A lot of these people at the concert were small children and teenagers like my daughter,” witness Stephanie Hill said. “These were Christmas presents for the majority of people. What should have been a happy occasion has ended like this, it is just tragic.”
Additional reporting by Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg