Manhunt in Manchester as probe leak row grows
Britain Thursday closed in on a jihadist network thought to be behind the Manchester concert attack, as grief mixed with anger at the US over leaked material from the probe.
The shellshocked country came to a halt for a poignant minute’s silence at 11:00 am local time (1000 GMT) to remember the 22 dead, innocent victims of the latest Islamic State-claimed atrocity to hit Europe.
And as more children were named among the victims of Monday’s massacre, Libyan authorities detained the suicide bomber’s father as well as his brother while police in Britain carried out fresh arrests and raids.
Mourner Carmel McLaughlan, 69, came to St Ann’s Square in Manchester for the minute’s silence.
Speaking to AFP as she stood next to a sea of flowers, she said: “I just feel as though it’s a bereavement for all of us.
“It’s like your own family just passed away, it’s just so, so sad, there’s just sadness hanging over Manchester at the moment. It’s terrible, it’s hard to believe it.”
Emotions were still raw in the northwestern city, three days after Salman Abedi’s attack on a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande – especially so as the bomber was born in the city.
As the nation mourned, Queen Elizabeth II visited children injured in the attack at a hospital in Manchester.
“It’s dreadful. Very wicked to target that sort of thing,” she told Evie Mills, 14, and her parents.
But Manchester United fans stood together in defiant mood as their team’s triumph in European football’s Europa League final brought some much-needed smiles to a city still in pain.
The club dedicated their trophy to those killed, while manager Jose Mourinho said they would gladly exchange it if it could bring their lives back.
And United came together with bitter local rivals Manchester City to donate £1 million to an emergency fund set up in the wake of the attack.
– Anger at US leaks –
Amid the grief, British authorities were left “furious” by repeated leaks of material shared with their US counterparts.
Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to confront US President Donald Trump over the issue at the NATO summit in Brussels later Thursday.
In a televised statement, she said she would “make clear to President (Donald) Trump that intelligence which is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure.”
Images obtained by The New York Times newspaper showed a detonator Abedi was said to have carried in his left hand, shrapnel including nuts and screws and the shredded remains of a blue backpack.
“We are furious. This is completely unacceptable,” a government ministry source said of the images “leaked from inside the US system”.
Manchester police chief Ian Hopkins said the leaks had “caused much distress for families that are already suffering terribly with their loss.”
The leak, which followed a similar disclosure of the bomber’s identity and probe details, has rocked the intelligence-sharing relationship between close allies London and Washington.
The National Counter Terrorism Policing body said the breach of trust caused great “damage” and “undermines our investigations.”
– ‘Planning’ Tripoli attack –
University dropout Abedi, 22, grew up in a Libyan family that reportedly fled to Manchester to escape the now-fallen regime of Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
His father Ramadan and younger brother Hashem were detained in Libya, authorities there said.
A spokesman for the Deterrence Force, which acts as Libya’s Government of National Accord’s police, said the brother was aware of Abedi’s plan and the siblings were both members of the Islamic State jihadist group.
The attack was the latest in a series of deadly incidents across Europe claimed by IS that have coincided with an offensive on the group in Syria and Iraq carried out by US, British and other Western forces.
Britain is engaged in anti-IS operations in Iraq, where it backed US forces to remove former leader Saddam Hussein.
Abedi’s brother Hashem had been “under surveillance for a month and a half” and “investigation teams supplied intelligence that he was planning a terrorist attack in the capital Tripoli”, the Deterrence Force said on its Facebook page.
A relative told AFP that Abedi had travelled to Manchester from Libya four days before the bombing.
German police said he had made a brief stopover at Duesseldorf Airport.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has said Abedi had “likely” been to Syria after the trip to Libya, citing information provided by British intelligence services to their counterparts in Paris.
“In any case, the links with Daesh are proven,” he said, using an alternative term for IS.
– Eight in British custody –
British officials said Abedi had been on the radar of the intelligence community before the massacre.
“It’s very clear that this is a network that we are investigating,” Manchester police chief Ian Hopkins told reporters.
Police announced two new arrests Thursday in their probe, bringing the total to eight people in custody in Britain. A woman detained on Wednesday was released without charges.
Early Thursday, police said they conducted a controlled explosion in the south of Manchester where they were carrying out searches in the Moss Side area connected to the attack.
Underscoring jitters in the city, bomb disposal units were rushed to a college in Manchester, which later turned out to be a false alarm.
Britain’s terror threat assessment has been hiked to “critical”, the highest level, meaning an attack is considered imminent.
Armed troops were sent to guard key sites, a rare sight in mainland Britain.
The attack was the deadliest in Britain since 2005 when four Islamist suicide bombers attacked London’s transport system, killing 52 people.
The bombing came just over two weeks before a snap general election set for June 8. Campaigning will resume on Friday.
A total of 75 people are being treated in hospital, including 25 in critical care, medical officials said. Twelve of the injured are aged under 16.
One of those killed was eight-year-old .