MANCHESTER, England – Police scrambled to close down a network around the Manchester suicide bomber with arrests in Britain and Tripoli on Wednesday (May 24), as details about the investigation were leaked to US media, infuriating authorities who fear a second attack is imminent.
British-born Salman Abedi, 22, who was known to security services, killed 22 people at a concert venue packed with children on Monday. It was the deadliest attack in Britain since July 2005, when four British Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people in coordinated attacks on London’s transport network.
Authorities believe he had help in building the bomb, which photographs published by the New York Times showed was sophisticated and powerful, and that his accomplices could be ready to strike again.
British police have arrested two more men in connection with the Manchester attack, taking the number of people in custody to eight, Greater Manchester police said in a tweet on Thursday (May 25).
In Libya, Abedi's younger brother Hashem and father Ramadan were also taken into custody by Libyan militia who said Hashem was planning an attack in Tripoli.
British police officers carried out a controlled explosion at an address in the south of Manchester early Thursday.
"This morning we have been carrying out searches at an address in the Moss Side area during which a controlled explosion took place,” Greater Manchester Police said in a statement on the overnight raid.
“These searches are connected to Monday’s attack on the Manchester Arena, but this is a fast-moving investigation and we are keeping an open mind at this stage.
Britain's interior minister Amber Rudd had said on Wednesday Abedi was unlikely to have acted alone. She said Abedi had recently returned from Libya while her French counterpart Gerard Collomb said he had links with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and had probably visited Syria too.
A source close to the investigation told Reuters that the focus was on whether Abedi had received help in putting together the bomb and on where it had been done.
“The question is: Was he acting alone or was he part of a network of others who want to kill. That is what the investigation is focusing on,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The concern is that there may be others out there who helped him to make the bomb. Making a bomb of this sort requires a certain level of expertise and competence,” said the source.
UNLIKELY ABEDI ACTED ALONE
ISIS, now being driven from territories in Syria and Iraq by Western-backed armed forces, claimed responsibility for the Manchester attack, but there were contradictions in its accounts of the action and a lack of crucial detail.
French Interior Minister Collomb said British investigators had told French authorities Abedi had probably travelled to Syria as well.
“Today we only know what British investigators have told us – someone of British nationality, of Libyan origin, who suddenly after a trip to Libya, then probably to Syria, becomes radicalised and decides to carry out this attack,” Collomb told BFMTV.
Asked if he believed Abedi had the support of a network, Collomb said: “That is not known yet, but perhaps. In any case, (he had) links with Daesh (ISIS) that are proven.”
Rudd said she was “not surprised at all” that ISIS had claimed the attack but said there was no information yet to confirm the extremist organisation’s active direction.
TROOPS DEPLOYED ACROSS BRITAIN
Meanwhile, troops were being deployed to key sites across Britain to help prevent further attacks after the official threat level was raised on Tuesday to the highest level of “critical”, meaning an attack could be imminent.
Rudd said up to 3,800 soldiers could be deployed on Britain’s streets, taking on guard duties to free up police to focus on patrols and investigation. An initial deployment of 984 had been ordered, initially in London, then elsewhere.
Soldiers were seen at the Houses of Parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May’s Downing Street residence and at London police headquarters at New Scotland Yard.
The Changing of the Guard, a military ceremony in front of Buckingham Palace popular with tourists, was cancelled on Wednesday and the Houses of Parliament suspended all public events.
The British parliament, which is usually open to visitors, said it would close to anyone who did not hold a permanent entry pass with immediate effect due to the increased security threat. The closure would last until advice from authorities changed.
Prime Minister Theresa May chaired a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency response committee at her Downing Street office on Wednesday morning.
Britain has a national election coming up on June 8 but all campaigning has been suspended since the bombing. The UK Independence Party, however, said it would resume its campaign activities on Thursday. Coverage of the attack and its aftermath has pushed out political news from the British media.
WASHINGTON REBUKED OVER LEAKS
Rudd also scolded US officials for leaking details about the investigation into the Manchester attack before British authorities were prepared to go public.
She was asked by the BBC about the fact that information about Abedi, including his name, had come out from the United States and whether she would look again at how information was shared with other countries.
“Yes, quite frankly. I mean the British police have been very clear that they want to control the flow of information in order to protect operational integrity, the element of surprise, so it is irritating if it gets released from other sources and I have been very clear with our friends that should not happen again.”
Asked whether the US leaks had compromised the investigation, she said: “I wouldn’t go that far but I can say that they are perfectly clear about the situation and that it shouldn’t happen again.”
Amid the security jitters, British police made two separate arrests in incidents they said were not related to the Manchester attack.
In an incident in East London, police arrested a man under the Terrorism Act during which a shopping centre was also evacuated. The man was arrested as part of a stop-and-search operation in the area, the Daily Mail reported.
At around the same time, police arrested a man with a knife near the Buckingham Palace on Wednesday. The Telegraph newspaper reported that the man was detained at a road leading up to the palace just moments before a car carrying Queen Elizabeth passed by on the way to an engagement with Prince Philip at the St Paul's Cathedral.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan police said the incident was not believed to be terror-related, said the Press Association.
Chelsea soccer club said it had cancelled a victory parade that had been scheduled to take place in London on Sunday to celebrate its Premier League title.
British police had already announced extra security measures for upcoming sporting fixtures including Saturday’s FA Cup football final.
Attacks in cities including Paris, Nice, Brussels, St Petersburg, Berlin and London have shocked Europeans already anxious over security challenges from mass immigration and pockets of domestic Islamic radicalism.
Britain's neighbour France, which has repeatedly been hit by devastating militant attacks since 2015, extended emergency powers after the Manchester bombing.