Britain raced Thursday to hunt down a jihadist network thought to be behind the Manchester concert attack, as a row escalated between London and Washington over leaked material from the probe.
As more children were named among the 22 victims of Monday’s massacre, Libyan authorities detained the suicide bomber’s father as well as his brother and police in Britain also carried out new arrests and raids.
A grieving country ground to a halt for a minute’s silence at 11:00 am local time (1000 GMT) to remember the dead, innocent victims of the latest Islamic State-claimed atrocity to hit Europe.
Carmel McLaughlan, 69, came to St Ann’s Square in Manchester for the minute’s silence.
Speaking to AFP as she stood next to the flowers. “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.”
In Manchester, northwest England, feelings were still raw following Salman Abedi’s attack on a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande — especially so as the bomber was born in the city.
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.
– Anger at US leaks –
But amid the grief, British authorities were left “furious” by repeated leaks of material shared with their US counterparts, providing an awkward backdrop for Prime Minister Theresa May’s meeting with US President Donald Trump at the NATO summit in Brussels later Thursday.
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”.
The leak, which followed a similar leak 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.
Police forensic officers examine the Manchester Arena, scene of a terror attack during a pop concert by US star Ariana Grande in Manchester, England
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.
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.
– 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.
And bomb disposal units were rushed to a call at a college in the jittery city, with the police shutting down roads.
Well-wishers brought floral tributes for the 22 victims of the terror attacks at the Manchester Arena
Elders at the south Manchester mosque believed to have been frequented by Abedi insisted that his actions were wholly alien to their preaching, and pointed the finger at online radicalisation.
“This act of cowardice has no place in our religion,” said Fawzi Haffar, a trustee at the Didsbury mosque.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb 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 a term for IS.
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.
– May meets NATO allies –
May was to hold a meeting of Britain’s emergency committee on Thursday before heading to Brussels.
Medics arrive at the scene of the bomb blast at an Ariana Grande pop concert in Manchester, Britain
After the NATO summit, May is heading to the G7 gathering in Italy on Friday. However, she will curtail her trip, returning home late Friday, missing the Saturday talks in Sicily.
The bombing came just over two weeks before a snap general election set for June 8. Campaigning will resume on Friday.
A total of 64 people are being treated in hospital, including 20 in critical care, medical officials said. Twelve of the injured are aged under 16. One of those killed was an eight-year-old girl.