MANCHESTER (REUTERS/NYTIMES/AFP) - At least 22 people, including children, were killed in a suspected terrorist attack at a concert in the northern English city of Manchester on Monday (May 23, Singapore time) where the US singer Ariana Grande had been performing.
The bomb blast which shook the Manchester Arena also injured 59 others.
British 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
British police said the attack was carried out by one man who also died at the arena. He had been carrying a device which he later detonated.
Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox
“We believe, at this stage, the attack last night was conducted by one man,” Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said. “The attacker, I can confirm, died at the arena. We believe the attacker was carrying an improvised explosive device which he detonated, causing this atrocity.”
He said that the priority was now to establish whether the attacker was acting alone or as part of a network. Local police in the city were working with national counter-terrorism and intelligence officials on the investigation, he added.
British police were on alert for any further attacks. London’s Victoria Coach Station and the surrounding streets were briefly closed on Tuesday morning over what was thought to be a suspicious package, the BBC said.
The blast came as the show was ending and pink balloons were dropping from the rafters in a signature flourish by Grande, a 23-year-old pop star on an international tour, reported The New York Times.
The explosion in the foyer of the stadium, which has a capacity of 21,000, sent terrified concertgoers, including children separated from their parents, fleeing for the exits.
Social media outlets lit up with pictures and videos of concertgoers leaving the building and a fleet of ambulances rushing to the site. Some concertgoers posted pictures of their bloodied hair and possessions. Outside the venue, concertgoers were seen checking their mobile phones trying to contact their loved ones.
Non-emergency patients in the waiting areas of hospitals were told to leave as doctors prepared to receive the injured.
Grande said late on Monday on Twitter she was at a loss for words over the incident. “Broken,” the 23-year-old wrote in her first reaction on Twitter. “From the bottom of my heart, I am so so sorry. I don’t have words,” she added.
The entertainment website TMZ reported that she had suspended her world tour in the wake of the bombing. Sources connected to the singer reportedly told the site she would not perform on Thursday in London and had also decided to postpone her entire European tour, which also included dates in Belgium, Poland, Germany and Switzerland.
May said in a statement police were treating it as an "appalling terrorist attack", adding that the government was working to establish the full details of what happened. "All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected," she said.
May is due to hold a crisis response meeting at 9am British Standard Time/4pm Singapore on Tuesday. Finance minister Philip Hammond said he would cut short a trip to Brussels to return to London.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said more police would be deployed to the city's streets.
World leaders condemned the attack. United States President Donald Trump offered prayers to the people of Manchester, extending his ''deepest condolences' after the terrorist attack. He denounced the perpetrators of the attack as "evil losers".
Chinese President Xi Jinping sent his condolences to Queen Elizabeth while French President Emmanuel Macron said he would discuss the fight against terrorism with May.
The incident evoked the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, which included a deadly assault inside the Bataclan concert hall which killed 90 people.
At least one explosion went off in the foyer of the arena, according to the British Transport Police, the force that protects Victoria Station, the train terminus next to the arena. The terminal was evacuated.
Sky News reported that a bomb disposal team was at the scene and the security cordon around the arena had been widened. Police later performed a controlled explosion on an item near the venue, but the item turned out to be abandoned clothing and was not suspicious.
Desperate parents were still seeking their loved ones more than five hours after the blast. Charlotte Campbell told CNN she had yet to reach her 15-year-old daughter, Olivia, since the explosion. "We've tried everything we can. They're telling us to wait by the phones. Her dad is out looking. It's the most horrible feeling ever, to know your daughter is there and you don't know whether she's dead or alive," she said.
Campbell, who broke down in tears, said she could not understand how anyone could have carried out an attack on the "innocent children." "I want her home and I want her safe. ... I just want her to walk through the door," she told the US news network.
Some parents and friends of the concertgoers used social media to search for their loved ones, sharing photos of happy-looking teenagers along with messages pleading for help.
The first unconfirmed reports of an explosion came shortly after 2145 GMT (5.45am Singapore time).
The New York Times quoted concert goer Gary Walker from the northern city of Leeds as saying that he “heard a massive bang and saw a flash” just as the concert concluded. When he turned, he saw that his wife had been hurt in the stomach and that her leg was possibly broken. He said that he saw “metal nuts on the floor.”
Suzy Mitchell, whose flat is opposite the venue, told the AFP wire agency: “(I) just heard a huge bang from my bed, came out to the front of my apartment and everyone was running away in big crowds.”
Videos posted on Twitter showed concertgoers running and screaming from their seats. Hannah Dane, who attended the performance, told The Guardian newspaper that there was “quite a loud explosion heard from inside the Manchester Arena". She added: “It shook, then everyone screamed and tried to get out.”
Concert goer Catherine Macfarlane told Reuters wire agency: “We were making our way out and when we were right by the door there was a massive explosion and everybody was screaming. 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 of the area.”
One concert goer, Sasina Akhtar, told The Manchester Evening News: “We saw young girls with blood on them, everyone was screaming and people were running.” Grande became a star on a Nickelodeon TV series and has a big following among teenagers. The concert was said to be packed with teenagers.
She is on an international tour to promote her 2016 album Dangerous Woman and was scheduled to perform at the O2 Arena in London on Thursday. It is not known if she will perform in Singapore at the Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix in September. A spokesman said she was unhurt but entertainment news website TMZ said she was “in hysterics” over the deadly blast.
According to The New York Times, parents separated from their children during the mayhem were told to go to a Holiday Inn, where many children had taken refuge. Local residents offered stranded concertgoers places to stay in their homes.
Karen Ford told the BBC that she had been leaving the concert when the blast occurred. She described the scene as chaotic as "everyone tried to push people up the stairs.” She saw people trying to push past a woman in a wheelchair as children screamed. Some concertgoers left behind their shoes in their hurry to get out.
Britain is on its second-highest alert level of “severe” meaning an attack by militants is considered highly likely.
The attack came two and half weeks ahead of an election in which May was predicted by opinion polls to win a large majority.
The tragedy prompted Britain's political parties to suspend campaigning. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said in a statement that he had spoken to May, leader of the Conservatives, and had agreed that all national campaigning for the June 8 election would be suspended until further notice.
The British pound sagged against the yen on Tuesday after the blast. The pound shed 0.45 per cent to 144.07 yen, but otherwise the currency was fairly steady against its major rivals.