Manchester Arena suicide bombing suspect identified as Salman Abedi
Photo courtesy of NBC News.
by ALEXANDER SMITH, TOM WINTER and CORKY SIEMASZKO
MANCHESTER, England — This proud British city was in mourning Tuesday after a suicide bombing by a homegrown terrorist killed 22 people — some of whom were children — at an Ariana Grande concert.
The man responsible for the carnage was identified by police as 22-year-old Salman Abedi, a British citizen of Libyan descent who lived in a south Manchester neighborhood called Fallowfield.
And in the wake of the attack, British Prime Minister Theresa May raised the terrorist threat level to the highest level and warned that another terrorist attack could be "imminent."
Speaking Tuesday night from Downing Street, May said that while investigations were ongoing as to whether Abedi had acted alone, "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."
She said the country's joint terrorism analysis center, which sets the threat level based on available intelligence had been keeping it "under constant review."
Earlier, Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins warned residents of this diverse city against any reprisals.
"We understand that feelings are very raw right now and people are looking for answers," he said. "We will not tolerate hate towards any parts of our community."
Hopkins later amplified on that theme at a wrenching vigil in the city's Albert Square, where thousands of faces were glazed by tears as the mournful tones of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" were played in remembrance.
"Today is a day we all hoped and prayed we would never see," the chief said. "We must all stand together and not let the terrorists defeat us."
It was the deadliest terrorist attack in the United Kingdom since four suicide bombers killed 52 London commuters on three subway trains and a bus in July 2005.
As condolences from President Donald Trump and other world leaders poured in, at Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip observed a moment of silence for the Manchester victims.
Meanwhile, NBC News has learned that the MI5 and other British investigators were questioning Abedi's 23-year-old brother in connection with the attack. They are trying to determine what drove Abedi to set off a bomb in Manchester Arena, which was crowded at the time with teenage girls — the pop star's fan base.
ISIS has claimed credit for the deadly attack, but so far neither British nor U.S. authorities have been able to link Abedi to the fanatical Islamic organization that has inspired other lethal terrorist attacks in Europe.
Until recently, Abedi was a business management major at the University of Salford in Manchester, a spokesperson there told NBC News. He enrolled in September 2015 and re-enrolled a year later but had not attended classes in several months, the spokesperson said.
Abedi, however, was known to British police and intelligence services, government sources told NBC News.
Also, the shrapnel-filled bomb Abedi set off produced very little smoke when it exploded, suggesting the main charge was a homemade explosive rather than black powder, the sources said.
Laboratory tests will likely determine what kind of deadly mixture Abedi used, they said.
In Washington, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on MSNBC that the timing of the attack was "very interesting." He noted that it happened right before the British elections and after Trump visited Saudi Arabia and Israel.
"I wonder if there's some connection between these visits and how he's condemned the radical Islamist terror, and then the response we see in Manchester," McCaul told MSBNC's Andrea Mitchell.
Former President Barack Obama tweeted support for Britain.
Our hearts go out to those killed and wounded in Manchester. Americans will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of the UK.
It was 10:33 p.m. Monday and Grande had just wrapped up her show as jubilant fans were filing out of the exits amid a sea of pink balloons when Abedi detonated his bomb, killing him instantly, police said.
In a sickening flash, a fun evening was transformed into carnage and chaos and video shot inside the 21,000-capacity venue showed terrified teenagers screaming and struggling to get out of harm's way.
Alison Pritchard, 34, who works as a waitress, recalled hearing "an almighty explosion behind us."
Her friend Carole Taylor, a 49-year-old teacher, told NBC News she turned around to see "this plume of smoke coming over and all this sort of debris and embers floating from the roof."
"When it exploded, it just rocked your whole body," she said. "It went right through us. People started screaming."
Initial reports indicated that some of the 59 people were hurt — some with life-threatening injuries — during the stampede for the exits.
"We have been treating this as a terrorist incident," Hopkins told reporters at the time. "Our priority is to establish whether he was acting alone or as part of a network."
May condemned the "cowardice" of the bomber.
Within hours a police bomb disposal unit carried out a controlled explosion just south of the arena in an area called Cathedral Gardens. The suspect bomb turned out to be a pile of clothes.
Then just before noon Tuesday, police nabbed the 23-year-old South Manchester man in connection with the blast.
And around 2 p.m. Tuesday, Manchester police executed a search warrant of a residence in the Whalley Range neighborhood about four miles south of the arena where they did a second controlled explosion. It was not immediately clear what they blew up this time.
Alexander Smith reported from Manchester. Tom Winter and Corky Siemaszko reported from New York.