Tuesday 23 May 2017 – Deadly suicide bombing in Manchester, England

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This post was written in stages as news developed during the day and later views may contradict earlier ones

This post includes some updates added on Wednesday 24 May 2017

 

Terror has returned to the streets of Britain in what is the deadliest terror attack in the UK since the London transport bombings in 2005. This time the attack took place in the north of England city of Manchester, at the city’s Manchester Arena (MEN). It is also the first suicide bombing in the UK since the London bombings. As I write this post 22 people are reported to have been killed in the bombing, which took place at the end of an Ariana Grande concert – with an audience of up to 21,000 –  in an enclosed area that joins the MEN with the neighbouring Victoria railway station. Reports suggest that 59 people have also been injured and taken to hospital, with around 60 more being treated at the scene.  The attack took place at 10:33 PM (BST) last night as concert-goers – most of them young teenagers – were beginning to leave the arena as Ms Grande had just left the stage and pink balloons were released from above the audience.

 

It is not known if the suicide bomber worked alone or not.  Police have carried out several raids in relation to the attack and have arrested a 23-year-old man in Chorlton in south Manchester. He is possibly connected with the attack, with the bomber himself dying at the scene. The bomber was named as Salman Ramadan Abedi by police. He was British, 22 and  born in Manchester on New Year’s Eve 1994.  The fact that the security services seem to have been aware of Abedi  prior to the attack is  going to be difficult to deal with for the Government and security services who will now have to explain how he managed to carry out the attack if it proves to be the case that he was known to the security services.

 

Surviving casualties of the attack were taken to eight different hospitals in Manchester and the region with 60 ambulances deployed to the scene. At least 12 of the injured in hospital are children under the age of 16 and one of the fatalities announced is an 8-year-old girl, Saffie Rose Roussos (below left) who was a pupil at Tarleton Primary School in Lancashire. Her head teacher, Chris Upton, said she was “simply a beautiful little girl in every aspect of the word” and was “loved by everyone”. Another fatality was 18-year-old health and social care student Georgina Callander (below right), who was attending Runshaw Colleage in Leyland.  The media is focusing on the fact that as this was an Ariana Grande concert the majority of the audience were young teenage girls. Sadly we are likely to see many more children to be among the dead and injured as the details are released.  The fact that the bomber has targeted a music concert with a predominantly young audience has made this attack that more appalling.

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In the immediate aftermath of the attack people in the MEN were screaming and panicking, trying to flee the arena confused and scared at what had happened and what to do. Videos are available on YouTube.  Some expressed fears that there may have been more bombs or even gunmen entering the arena to follow up the bomb attack with more terror. Thankfully there were no more bombs or attacks and those fleeing were able to get to safety. Nearby residents, businesses and hotels opened their doors to the fleeing people – many of whom were stranded either in their own confusion or because of the lockdown in the cordon that quickly spread out from the MEN Arena.  Hotels let people in to give them drinks and food and allow them to use phones and phone chargers.  Some residents offered rooms to people stranded, others drove people out of the city and home.

 

Sadly some people are still missing after the explosion. They include teenagers Laura MacIntyre and Eilidh MacLeod, from Barra in the Outer Hebrides, as well as 15-year-old Olivia Campbell and Chloe Rutherford, 17, and Liam Curry, 19.  Twitter and other social media has been alive with reports of those missing since the attack. Hopefully most of these will simply be incommunicado in the chaos and lockdown after the attack and will prove to be safe and well. Sadly, some may not. Unbelievably some fake reports of missing people have been posted online. It is difficult to imagine the mind set of such people. Some people have reported seeing photos of relatives surreptitiously appearing online to their horror. The reality is harsh enough with having to create fake additions to the horror.  In the aftermath many parents are genuinely  still unaware of the whereabouts of their children who were at the concert and who are still missing. The fear and worry these parents will be feeling is truly heart-wrenching to contemplate. 

 

Islamic State have claimed that they were behind the Manchester attack but this cannot be confirmed. They described Salman Abedi as a “caliphate soldier.” The fact that this was a suicide belt attack and that the belt contained nuts-and-bolts to act as deadly shrapnel raises the possibility that this was a more sophisticated and professional bombing. That then increases the chances that this attack may not be the only one that is being planned. It is possible that there may be other attacks to come and it is more likely that others were involved in this bombing. The only other suicide attacks in the UK to use as comparison were the London bombings in 2005. There four suicide bombers detonated their bombs on three trains and a double-decker bus.  Exactly two weeks later, an almost identical terrorist operation again in London failed when their bombs did not detonate.  While the bombing at MEN at the moment seems to have been just one bomber acting alone, we cannot rule out that others may follow. No doubt security around the country, as well as in Europe and the rest of the world, will be on high alert for more attacks or copycat attacks.

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Greater Manchester Police (GMP) for now are saying  that the investigation is “fast-moving”  and that they were working to confirm whether the bomber “was acting alone  or as part of a network.”  The GMP have  also said that although the area around the MEN was cordoned off, they wanted to “ remind people that Manchester will not be defeated – the city is open for business.” The Prime Minister, Theresa May, pictured below signing a book of condolence at Manchester Town Hall, said in a statement shortly after chairing a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee: “All acts of terrorism are cowardly attacks on innocent people, but this attack stands out for its appalling, sickening cowardice, deliberately targeting innocent, defenceless children and young people who should have been enjoying one of the most memorable nights of their lives.”

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The Prime Minister would later visit Manchester. In her statement she added: “[the city has] fallen victim to a callous terror attack, which targeted some of the youngest people in our society with cold calculation. We struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room packed with young children not as a scene to cherish but an opportunity for carnage. But we can continue to resolve to thwart such attacks in future, to take on and defeat the ideology that often fuels this violence. And if there turn out to be others responsible, to seek them out and bring them to justice.” The Cobra meeting lasted two hours and was attended by Cabinet ministers and security services and police representatives as well as the newly appointed Mayor of Manchester City Region, Andy Burnham, who was on video link. On the attack, Ms May added in her statement: “This was among the worst terrorist incidents we have ever experienced in the UK and 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.” 

 

Campaigning in the General Election, which takes place in barely two weeks on 8 June, was suspended after mutual consent from all the country’s political parties. Security has been increased across the country and that will continue as long as deemed necessary. The country’s threat level, however, has been kept of “severe” and there are currently no plans to raise it to “critical,” which hopefully suggests the Government and security forces do not think another attack is imminent.  “Severe” means that an attack is “highly likely.”(SEE UPDATE AT END OF POST) Discussions are taking place in regards to major sporting events planned in the coming days including the FA Cup Final and the rugby premiership final at the weekend. The Metropolitan Police commissioner  Cressida Dick says that it will “ensure necessary steps had been taken, [the aim was] to make London as hostile an environment as possible for any would-be attacker.” The MET Police are responsible for policing in the Greater London area.

 

The Queen expressed her “deepest sympathy” to those affected, adding: “The whole nation has been shocked by the death and injury.” President Trump described the bomber as an “evil loser” and said they must be “obliterated.”  He say chose to call the bomber a loser, having thought of calling him a monster, as he believed the bomber would appreciate the name monster being ascribed to him. Speaking from the West Bank, he added: “Our society can have no tolerance for this continuation of bloodshed.”. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said: “The most cowardly form of terrorism has struck once again, targeting – as in Paris more than a year ago – a concert venue,” referring to the attack at the Bataclan music venue in Paris in November 2015.  Meanwhile, the Major of Nice in southern France – where a truck was driven into a crowd last year killing 80 people – said that “every time some of our friends are hit” it brings back the memories of the Nice attacks. He continued:  “We must wage war against the fifth column which crawls like an octopus through underground networks.”

 

Saldy, the Russian head of the defence committee in Russia’s parliament, used the attack to make an attack on British special forces, calling it a “lesson” for their refusing to co-operate with their Russian counterparts:  “We have said several times, although the UK was the first country that refused to co-operate with us at the level of intelligence services, that we are ready to share any information we have. And now, of course, this applies.”

 

China’s president Xi Jinping spoke to the Queen by phone, saying: “At this time of great difficulty the UK and China stand together.” The Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, said he expressed his “heartfelt sympathy and resolute solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom.” Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier talked of a “special bond with the British people at this tragic moment.” Donald Tusk, the European Council President, said: “My heart is in Manchester this night. Our thoughts are with the victims.”  The Italian Prime Minister expressed his solidarity: “Italy joins with the British people and Government. Our thoughts are with the victims of the #Manchester attack and their families,” while his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy said: “I condemn the attack. My condolences to the victims’ families.”  African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat: “Africa stands with the people and government of the United Kingdom in reaffirming our solidarity with them during this difficult time.” While the Vatican issued a telegram, which stated: “His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the injury and tragic loss of life caused by the barbaric attack in Manchester, and he expresses his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this senseless act of violence.”

 

Harun Khan, the leader of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “This is horrific, this is criminal. May the perpetrators face the full weight of justice both in this life and the next,” pre-empting the criticism and anger towards the Muslim community in the UK that will no doubt intensify after this act.  Mr Khan and others will want to express the reality that the bomber may claim to to have carried out the bombing in the name of God and Islam, but in reality it is a barbaric criminal act carried out by someone who has distorted and perverted the teachings of Islam. The Anglican bishop of Manchester echoed this view that the bombing should not be regarded as an act of Islam when he said: “The guilt for last night belongs to the perpetrators and the perpetrators alone – it doesn’t go beyond them.” GMP have issued a statement saying they will not tolerate any hate crime that follows from this bombing. Bishop David Walker added that the Muslim community was “one with us” and that they “will be part of how we together respond to last night.”

 

Ariana Grande, whose concert was the target of the attack last night, posted on Twitter at 3:15 am this morning that she was “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.” Predictably, whether as a mark of respect to the victims of the attack or out of concern for their own safety and the safety of their audiences, some stars are announcing cancellations or postponements of planned concerts. Take That, who were due to play in Liverpool tomorrow have cancelled “due to the tragic events in Manchester last night and the ongoing police investigation.” They have also postponed concerts planned for the MEN later this month.  Blondie have cancelled a concert planned for tonight in London, with Debbie Harry tweeting that it will be re-scheduled. Many music stars are sending their messages of sympathy and support, mostly via their Twitter accounts. Some are included below. Some of these have tweeted additional tweets on the bombing since the ones listed here. You can view their Twitter account by clicking on their highlighted name:

 

  • Nicki Minaj“My heart hurts for my sister, Ariana & every family affected by this tragic event in the U.K. Innocent lives lost. I’m so sorry to hear this.”

 

  • Mariah Carey – “My heart goes out to the families of those who lost their lives in Manchester last night. My thoughts & prayers are with you all. God bless.” Mariah Carey later went on to make a personal tribute to Martyn Hett, who died in the bombing. He was a big fan of the singer.

 

  • Taylor Swift“My thoughts, prayers and tears for all those affected by the Manchester tragedy tonight. I’m sending all my love.”

 

  • Harry Styles“I’m heartbroken over what happened in Manchester tonight. Sending love to everyone involved. H.”

 

  • Lorde“every musician feels sick & responsible tonight—shows should be safe for you. truly a worst nightmare. sending love to manchester & ari.”

 

  • Bruno Mars“No words can describe how I feel about what happened in Manchester. I don’t wanna believe that the world we live in could be so cruel.”

 

  • Justin Timberlake“My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this horrific act in Manchester. We need to do better. We need to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”

 

  • Rihanna#Manchester has always been so close to my heart! These are innocent vulnerable kids, this could’ve been any of us! I’m devastated!” and “Praying for the beautiful souls we lost, their families and loved ones, for the survivors who will forever be impacted by this #Manchester.”

 

 

  • Guy Gurvey (Elbow) – “My heart is broken.”

 

 

Ariana Grande has been on tour since February having already played concerts in the United States, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. No news has been released on the status of the rest of her tour which is due to include more concerts in the UK, as well as in  Poland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Thailand and Australia and climaxing in Hong Kong in September.

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The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn (above) issued a statement on the bombing:

 

“I am horrified by the horrendous events in Manchester last night. My thoughts are with families and friends of those who have died and  been injured.

 

“Today the whole country will grieve for the people who have lost their lives.

 

“I have spoken with Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, who has fully briefed me on the operational response in the city.

 

“I would like to pay tribute to the emergency services for their bravery and professionalism in dealing with last night’s appalling events.

 

“I have spoken with the Prime Minister and we have agreed that that all national campaigning in the general election will be suspended until further notice.”

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The lights had just come back up after Ariana Grande had left the stage at the end of her concert and pink balloons reigned down on the happy crowd as they began leaving the MEN to make their way home when the suicide bomber devastated many of their lives.  Below are some eyewitness accounts:

 

  • Sammy: “It sounded like a big balloon popping, but it was kind of muffled, like it wasn’t in the stadium itself. There were a few screams, then there was silence. Then the whole arena literally split like the Red Sea – everyone was trampling over each other, sprinting to get to the nearest exit. It was like a scene out of a horror movie.”

 

  • Erin McDougle, 20, Newcastle: “The lights were already on so we knew it wasn’t part of the show.”

 

  • Majid Khan, 22: “[a] huge bomb-like bang [went off].  Everyone from the other side of the arena, where the bang was heard from, suddenly came running towards us.  Everyone was just running to any exit they could find, as quickly as they could. Everyone was in a huge state of panic, calling each other … it was just extremely disturbing for everyone there.”

 

  • Elizabeth Welsby, 50, teacher: “All hell broke loose and everyone was running and screaming. We did run over two or three posters smeared with blood. Everyone was just screaming, lots of people were wondering what was going on.”

 

  • Ellie Ward, 17: Her grandfather was injured in the attack, severing an artery: “He said he only realised what had happened when he felt the side of his head and it was bleeding. … We heard a massive shudder. We knew something was wrong.”

 

  • Oliver Jones: 17: “I saw people running and screaming towards one direction and then many turning around to run back the other way. Security was running as well as the fans and concert-goers … You see this on the news all the time and never expect it to happen to you.”

 

  • Abby Muller, Airdrie, Scotland: “That sound, the blood and those who were running around clueless with body parts and bits of skin missing will not be leaving my mind any time soon or the minds of those involved. I understand these images might be upsetting however I feel as though people need to be shown just how cruel this world really is.”

 

  • Suzy Mitchell, 26, Manchester: “Everyone was running away in big crowds.”

 

  • Robert Tempkin, 22, Middlesbrough: “Everyone was screaming and running, there were coats and people’s phones on the floor. People just dropped everything. Some people were screaming they’d seen blood but other people were saying it was balloons busting, or a speaker had been popped.”

 

  • Sammy: “There were many distraught children crying and having panic attacks at this point. There were people in the street saying it was a bomb. We didn’t know what to believe.” Sammy’s father added, of the people leaving the MEN – many covered in blood: “One guy was carrying his daughter in his arms, begging for an ambulance.”

 

  • Tyler: “We felt something but didn’t know what it was – there was a sound like thunder. One girl had a panic attack and another had streaming tears, a woman had a heart attack just outside.”

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It comes as no surprise that the bomber was British. Most, if not all, Islamic-inspired attacks in the UK have been carried out by British citizens – whether British born or naturalised.  It is sadly also not a surprise that Abedi was known to the security services prior to his attack last night. The police have raided a house in south Manchester, said to the home of Abedi’s brother. A 23-year-old man, possibly Abedi’s brother, has been arrested. Police carried out a controlled explosion at the address – to blow off the door – and have searched the property. A fire engine was at the scene and a police helicopter hovered above.  Abedi is of Libyan descent, but no-one seems to (or will admit that they) have had suspicions about Abedi. He was described as slightly withdrawn, devout and respectful of his elders – a familiar post-attack profile we seem to get a lot to describe terrorists – at least in the UK. One member of the Manchester Libyan community said he was “astonished” that the bomber was Salman Abedi, adding: “He was such a quiet boy, always very respectful towards me. His brother Ismael is outgoing, but Salman was very quiet. He is such an unlikely person to have done this.”

 

The raid on the property was witnessed by neighbours, including Alan Kinsey, a car-delivery driver who lives across the road. He described what he saw to the Daily Telegraph:   “The police were very heavily armed. All of them. It was like something out of a war scene. “It was terrifying. About thirty of them arrived in camouflage and riot gear and removed the wooden fence between two properties.  Then they attached a black strip to the door and there was a loud explosion. The door came off its hinges. The windows were shaking. The whole operation lasted about 90 seconds.  I didn’t see them leading anyone out of the house. I believe it was empty.”

 

The Abedi brothers worshipped at the Didsbury Mosque and were the sons of Abu Ismael, who is well known in the community. On Abu Ismael, it has been said:  “He used to do the five [pillars of Islam]  and call the adhan [call to prayer]. He has an absolutely beautiful voice. And his boys learned the Qur’an by heart. Abu Ismael will be terribly distraught. He was always very confrontational with jihadi ideology, and this Isis thing isn’t even jihad, it’s criminality. The family will be devastated.” Although Mr Ismael’s wife, Samia, is thought to be in Manchester, he is believed to be in Tripoli in Libya, according to a family friend: “He comes and goes between here and there. I can’t believe he would have been radicalised in Tripoli. All those types have been driven out of the city. It must have happened here. But what was he doing, murdering all those people. There must have been somebody influencing him. It’s terrible. He was off his head.”

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Others were not so surprised that Abedi  (above)was the suicide bomber. Mohammed Saeed El-Saeiti, the imam at the Didsbury Mosque, remembers Abedi as an dangerous extremist. He told the Daily Telegraph: “Salman showed me the face of hate after my speech on Isis. […] He used to show me the face of hate and I could tell this person does not like me. It’s not a surprise to me.”  A school friend has also said that Abedi “went to Libya three weeks ago and came back recently, like days ago.” If this is so it could be a major clue or lead in the investigation into the attack. The Imam at the Didsbury Mosque also thought that Abedi had become radicalised recently and used to wear Islamic clothing. It has also been suggested that he raised money for jihadists in the past. The Daily Telegraph report says that a Gaddafi dissidents, part of a banned group Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), lived in Whalley Range in Manchester, close to where Abedi lived. These included Abd al-Baset Azzouz, who left the UK to run a terrorist network in Libya that was overseen by Osama Bin Laden’s successor at al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

 

Speaking more about Salman Abedi, the Didsbury Imam added: “he was not my friend, he is not close. I could understand that he was not happy with me because I did combat Isis in that Friday sermon sometimes. […] When he passed by me, we Muslims greet each other and you know he is not happy with me if he doesn’t greet you.”

 

Another resident in the Libyan community in Manchester, Lina Ahmed, said: “They are a Libyan family and they have been acting strangely. A couple of months ago he [Salman] was chanting the first kalma [Islamic prayer] really loudly in the street. He was chanting in Arabic. […] He was saying ‘There is only one God and the prophet Mohammed is his messenger’.”

 

Islamic State, via  a coded telegram, claimed that they were behind the attack and that Salman Abedi (though they didn’t name him) was: : “A solider of the Khilafah.” They continued that he “managed to place explosive devices in the midst of the gatherings of the Crusaders in the British city of Manchester, in revenge for Allah’s religion, in an endeavour to terrorize the [infidels], and in response to their transgressions against the lands of the Muslims. The explosive device were detonated in the shameless concert arena, resulting in 30 Crusaders being killed [sic] and 70 others being wounded. And what comes next will be more severe on the worshippers of the Cross and their allies.”

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Early this evening a vigil was held at Albert Square outside the Town Hall  to remember the victims of last night’s terrorist attack and to express solidarity and a determination that the city and its people will not be cowered by terror. The vigil included the poet Tony Walsh, who read his own poem “This is the Place.” – an ode to the city and people of Manchester. You can view Tony Walsh reading the poem at the vigil on the Manchester Evening News website, or read it below:

 

“This is the place

 

“In the north-west of England. It’s ace, it’s the best

 

“And the songs that we sing from the stands, from our bands

 

“Set the whole planet shaking.

 

“Our inventions are legends. There’s nowt we can’t make, and so we make brilliant music

 

“We make brilliant bands

 

“We make goals that make souls leap from seats in the stands

 

“And we make things from steel

 

“And we make things from cotton

 

“And we make people laugh, take the mick summat rotten

 

“And we make you at home

 

“And we make you feel welcome and we make summat happen

 

“And we can’t seem to help it

 

“And if you’re looking from history, then yeah we’ve a wealth

 

“But the Manchester way is to make it yourself.

 

“And make us a record, a new number one

 

“And make us a brew while you’re up, love, go on

 

“And make us feel proud that you’re winning the league

 

“And make us sing louder and make us believe that this is the place that has helped shape the world

 

And this is the place where a Manchester girl named Emmeline Pankhurst from the streets of Moss Side led a suffragette city with sisterhood pride

 

“And this is the place with appliance of science, we’re on it, atomic, we struck with defiance, and in the face of a challenge, we always stand tall, Mancunians, in union, delivered it all

 

“Such as housing and libraries and health, education and unions and co-ops and first railway stations

 

“So we’re sorry, bear with us, we invented commuters. But we hope you forgive us, we invented computers.

 

“And this is the place Henry Rice strolled with rolls, and we’ve rocked and we’ve rolled with our own northern soul

 

“And so this is the place to do business then dance, where go-getters and goal-setters know they’ve a chance

 

“And this is the place where we first played as kids. And me mum, lived and died here, she loved it, she did.

 

“And this is the place where our folks came to work, where they struggled in puddles, they hurt in the dirt and they built us a city, they built us these towns and they coughed on the cobbles to the deafening sound to the steaming machines and the screaming of slaves, they were scheming for greatness, they dreamed to their graves.

 

“And they left us a spirit. They left us a vibe. That Mancunian way to survive and to thrive and to work and to build, to connect, and create and Greater Manchester’s greatness is keeping it great.

 

“And so this is the place now with kids of our own. Some are born here, some drawn here, but they all call it home.

 

“And they’ve covered the cobbles, but they’ll never defeat, all the dreamers and schemers who still teem through these streets.

 

“Because this is a place that has been through some hard times: oppressions, recessions, depressions, and dark times.

 

“But we keep fighting back with Greater Manchester spirit. Northern grit, Northern wit, and Greater Manchester’s lyrics.

 

“And these hard times again, in these streets of our city, but we won’t take defeat and we don’t want your pity.

 

“Because this is a place where we stand strong together, with a smile on our face, greater Manchester forever.

 

“And we’ve got this place where a team with a dream can get funding and something to help with a scheme.

 

“Because this is a place that understands your grand plans. We don’t do “no can do” we just stress “yes we can”

 

“Forever Manchester’s a charity for people round here, you can fundraise, donate, you can be a volunteer. You can live local, give local, we can honestly say, we do charity different, that Mancunian way.

 

“And we fund local kids, and we fund local teams. We support local dreamers to work for their dreams. We support local groups and the great work they do. So can you help us. help local people like you?

 

“Because this is the place in our hearts, in our homes, because this is the place that’s a part of our bones.

 

“Because Greater Manchester gives us such strength from the fact that this is the place, we should give something back.

 

“Always remember, never forget, forever Manchester.”

 

The vigil, which lasted about half-an-hour, included a minute’s silence. After the vigil many lingered in Albert Square soaking up the sombre atmosphere. Some chanted “Manchester,” others held banners and messages.  The service was seen across the world and broadcast around the globe by the BBC World Service radio service.

 

In the United States, English TV presenter James Corden, who hails from London and is now presenting The Late Late Show on American television, made an emotional video dedicated to Manchester. In it he spoke directly to the camera, occasionally pausing with emotion and to gather his thoughts:

 

“While taping our show earlier tonight, we heard the horrific news coming out of Manchester in England, that there had been an incident at Ariana Grande’s concert.

 

“We still have no real information about what’s happening. All we know is the tragic news that there are multiple fatalities and many injuries.

 

“It shocks me every time we hear this sort of news. Attacks like this can happen…but especially when there will be so many children at this concert tonight.

 

“Many of you won’t have been to Manchester, but you will definitely have heard of it.

 

“It’s famous all over the world for so many wonderful things – great football teams, Man City, Man United.

 

“It’s famous for incredible music – Oasis and Joy Division.

 

“It was the birthplace of the leader of the Suffragettes. It’s the home of the inventor of the first computer.

 

“It’s a place full of comedy and character.

 

“But when I think of Manchester, the place that I know, I think of the spirit of the people there – and I’m telling you, a more tight-knit group of people you will be hard pressed to find.

 

“Strong, proud, caring people, with community at its core.

 

“If it was even possible, the spirit of the people of Manchester will grow even stronger this evening.

 

“My thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Manchester tonight – all of the staff at the [Manchester Arena], all of the security teams, all of the emergency services, Ariana and her team, and all of those families affected by tonight.

 

“We’ll all go to bed holding our little ones even tighter this evening.”

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I’m writing this blog from Liverpool, about 35 miles from Manchester. Liverpool and Manchester have always had a long history of rivalry in many areas of life, including football, music and politics.  I knew a couple of people who were in Manchester last night  – thankfully not at the MEN Arena or in the immediate area. My immediate thoughts this morning on hearing the news of the bombing was with them. Despite the differences between our cities and our rivalries, the people of both cities share the same passion for things in life and that is what makes our rivalry so strong at times. Liverpudlians mock Mancunians and vice-versa, but we all tend to visit each other’s cities regularly – whether to watch a football match or for a night out.  Manchester’s gay village is a strong draw for people in Liverpool’s LGBT community and from further afield. We have our own “gay village” but Manchester’s is so much larger and more established. The same goes for the annual Pride event in Manchester. It is bigger and has been around for nearly 20 years longer than Liverpool’s, which only began comparatively recently in 2010.  Today, however, people of Liverpool as they are elsewhere in the UK will be standing in solidarity with those in Manchester – in the same way that they have come to stand with the people of Liverpool over the years in their fight for justice over the Hillsborough Disaster.

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Here on Merseyside, the Merseyside Council of Faiths echoed the view I was discussing earlier of so-called Islamic terrorists using their perverted view of Islam to divide and set religions against each other. I am someone of no religious faith, but agree wholeheartedly with the message of this statement:

 

“On behalf of Merseyside Council of Faiths, we wish to express our shock and concern following the atrocities last night at the Manchester Arena.

 

“We remember and offer our condolences to the family and friends of those killed and maimed notably many children and young people. We also rejoice at the generosity and solidarity shown by so many Mancunians and the speedy and effective response of the Emergency Services.

 

“Merseyside and Greater Manchester have a long history of faith communities working together to promote equality, social justice and community harmony. We send our good wishes to all those involved in working for community solidarity in the wake of this atrocity notably to all the faith communities in Manchester notably our sister body the Faith Network for Manchester (FN4M).

 

“We send a strong message to all who want to use religion to divide our communities that all the faiths stand together today. There is no place in our society for hatred and violence.

 

“We again encourage all people (including gatherings of faith communities, in schools and of community groups) to use the Universal Prayer of Peace as a sign of our solidarity with all those affected:

 

Lead us from death to Life, from falsehood to Truth.
Lead us from despair to Hope, from fear to Trust.
Lead us from hate to Love, from war to Peace.
Let Peace fill our heart, our world, our universe.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom

 

“ – Dr Shiv Pande MBE DL and the Revd Dr Sheryl Anderson (Co-Chairs).”


BBC_picture_Arndale_centre_after_1996_bomb

Last night’s terrorist attack in Manchester wasn’t the first time that the city has experienced terror on its streets. The city suffered twice in the 1990s at the hand of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). The 1992 bombings saw two bombs explode in the city. The first was a a car bomb which exploded in Parsonage Gardens in the commercial district of the city, injuring six people. The second bomb exploded about 90 minutes later on Cateaton Street near Manchester Cathedral, wounding 58 people. Many buildings were damaged and, despite a phone call after the explosions warning of more bombs, no more materialised.  In 1996, on the 15 June, the IRA detonated a 3,300 lb truck bomb on Corporation Street in the city centre (pictured above). It was the biggest detonation in the UK since World War Two and targeted the city’s commercial and economic infrastructure. It caused devastation estimated at a value of over £700 million (£1.2 billion today) – a figure that has only been surpassed by the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and, in some estimates, by the  Bishopgate bombing in 1993. Thankfully the IRA had given a coded warning and 75,000 people were evacuated, but 200 people were still injured but there were no fatalities. The 1996 bombing was condemned by President Bill Clinton which had an effect on the IRA in that they issued a statement expressing regret that civilians were injured.

 

Bill Clinton’s intervention in the peace process was critical in persuading the IRA and its political wing Sinn Fein to find a peaceful end to the Troubles and serious attempts at peace were begun.  More bombs would follow by the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA including the bomb in Omagh in Northern Ireland in August 1998 by the so-called Real IRA. That killed 29 people, making it the worst single bombing in the Troubles.  After the 1996 bombing in Manchester, attacks on the mainland included trackside bombs in Cheshire (IRA) in 1997, a bombing outside the BBC Television Centre in London in 2001 (Real IRA). No-one was injured or killed in these attacks. The last mainland bombing was a car bomb in Ealing, London in August 2001 (Real IRA) which injured seven civilians.

 

The IRA had been waging a campaign of terror against British presence in Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom after the independence of the Republic of Ireland in the 1920s.  Since the late 1960s Britain deployed the Army onto the streets of Northern Ireland, originally to keep the warring Catholic and Protestant communities apart.  They quickly became a permanent presence there, and became an increasing target of the Republican community and the IRA.  During the 1970s and 1980s the IRA waged a campaign of attacks both in Northern Ireland and on the mainland against various targets and cities including London, Birmingham and Manchester.  In 1984 they exploded a bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England during the Conservative Party conference. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher narrowly escaped death.  Peace talks came to fruition in the late 1990s with the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement and the Troubles in Northern Ireland have largely faded in the years since with Northern Ireland’s political parties and communities working closer together than they have ever done before – even sharing power in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

 

Read more about the Troubles: 1. A list of bombings, 2. Timeline of the Troubles , 3. The Troubles (all Wikipedia) or try the BBC History’s guide to the Troubles.


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UPDATE: (10:30 pm, Tuesday 23 May 2017)

 

Despite not raising the threat level in the UK from “severe” to “critical” following this morning’s meeting of the Cobra emergency committee, the Government has know changed their mind and increased the threat level, meaning an attack could now be imminent. It seems the reason for doing so follows the investigation into the MEN bombings being unable to establish if Salman Abedi acted alone or not.  As a consequence of the threat level being raised to “critical” Operation Temperer will be brought into action which will see military personnel deployed to protect key sites around the country.

 

This level of threat assessment has only been reached twice before. In 2006 it was raised to “critical” as part of an operation to stop liquid bombs being used to blow up transatlantic planes, and in 2007 it was also raised during the hunt for the men who attempted to bomb a London night club and successfully attacked Glasgow airport. Following a second meeting of the Cobra emergency committee this evening, the Prime Minister announced the decision to raise the threat level:

 

“I have just chaired another meeting of Cobra, where we again discussed the callous and cowardly terrorist attack in Manchester last night, and the operational response from the security service, the police and other emergency services.

 

“It remains the case that, other than the terrorist himself, 22 people were killed in the attack. Fifty-nine people remain injured, and many of them have life-threatening conditions.

 

“As Greater Manchester Police confirmed earlier today [Tuesday], the perpetrator was Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old who was born and brought up in Britain.

 

“And as the emergency services have confirmed throughout the day, his victims were innocent children, young people and their families.

 

“Our thoughts and prayers are with them all.

 

“I want to reiterate what I said this morning about the professionalism of the emergency services and the bravery of the people of Manchester. Through their actions, they proved that cowardice will always be defeated by bravery, that evil can be overcome by good, and that our values – the liberal, pluralistic values of Britain – will always prevail over the hateful ideology of the terrorists.

 

“In my statement earlier today, I said that the police and security services needed to investigate whether or not Abedi was acting alone. Those investigations continue. But the work undertaken throughout the day has revealed that it is a possibility we cannot ignore that there is a wider group of individuals linked to this attack.

 

“This morning, I said that the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) – the independent organisation responsible for setting the threat level on the basis of the intelligence available – was keeping the threat level under constant review.

 

“It has now concluded, on the basis of today’s investigations, that the threat level should be increased, for the time being, from severe to critical. This means that their assessment is not only that an attack remains highly likely, but that a further attack may be imminent.

 

“The change in the threat level means that there will be additional resources and support made available to the police as they work to keep us all safe.

 

“As a result of the JTAC’s decision, the police have asked for authorisation from the secretary of state for defence to deploy a number of armed military personnel in support of their armed officers.

 

“This request is part of a well-established plan, known as Operation Temperer, in which both the armed forces and the police officers involved are well-trained and well-prepared to work in this kind of environment. The secretary of state for defence has approved this request, and Operation Temperer is now in force.

 

“This means that armed police officers responsible for duties such as guarding key sites will be replaced by members of the armed forces, which will allow the police to significantly increase the number of armed officers on patrol in key locations.

 

“You might also see military personnel deployed at certain events, such as concerts and sports matches, helping the police to keep the public safe. In all circumstances, members of the armed forces who are deployed in this way will be under the command of police officers.

 

“Precisely how the military and armed police officers will be deployed is an operational decision for police commanders and Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley of the Metropolitan Police will be making a statement giving further details at New Scotland Yard later this evening.

 

“In the coming days and weeks, there will of course be many events hosted up and down the country. The police will work with the organisers and hosts of these events, to come to a judgement about how they can go ahead while making sure the people who attend them are safe and secure.

 

“I do not want the public to feel unduly alarmed. We have faced a serious terrorist threat in our country for many years. And the operational response I have just outlined is a proportionate and sensible response to the threat that our security experts judge we face. I ask everybody to be vigilant, and to cooperate with and support the police as they go about their important work.

 

“I want to end by repeating the important message I gave in my statement earlier today. We will take every measure available to us and provide every additional resource we can to the police and the security services as they work to protect the public.

 

“And while we mourn the victims of last night’s appalling attack, we stand defiant. The spirit of Manchester – and the spirit of Britain – is far mightier than the sick plots of depraved terrorists. That is why the terrorists will never win, and we will prevail.“

 


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