Manchester attack: Police are investigating ‘network’
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The Manchester suicide bomber’s “network” is the focus of a huge counter-terrorism investigation into Monday’s attack, as members of his family were detained in Libya and British police arrested a sixth suspect.
The head of Greater Manchester Police confirmed that British police are investigating a network in their inquiry into the bombing at Manchester Arena that killed 22 people following a concert by US singer Ariana Grande.
“I think it’s very clear that this is a network that we are investigating,” Chief Constable Ian Hopkins told reporters on Wednesday.
“And as I’ve said, it continues at a pace. There’s extensive investigations going on and activity taking place across Greater Manchester as we speak.”
Mr Hokins also confirmed that an off-duty female police officer was among the victims of the bomb attack.
The suicide bomber was likely to have been working with other terrorists but was only known to the security services “up to a point”, the British home secretary said earlier on Wednesday.
Amber Rudd said Salman Ramadan Abedi was known to the intelligence agencies but it was not yet known whether Islamic State (Isis) directed the attack, which injured 59.
“It seems likely, possible, that he wasn’t doing this on his own,” she said.
On Wednesday night, a woman was arrested in connection with the attack following an armed raid on a block of flats in Blackley, in the north of Manchester, Greater Manchester Police said, bringing to six the number of suspects in custody in England.
Locals heard a “huge bang” as officers carrying firearms raided the address.
Three men were arrested in south Manchester overnight in connection with the attack.
Greater Manchester Police also said a suspect had been arrested in Wigan.
Police said they were assessing a package carried by the man in Wigan.
Armed police and officers clad in camouflage also raided a block of flats close to Manchester Piccadilly Station on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Libyan counter-terrorism forces said on Wednesday that Salman’s father had been detained and Salman’s younger brother Hashem had been arrested in Tripoli on suspicion of links to Isis.
A spokesman said Hashem was planning an attack in Tripoli and knew of the Manchester attack in advance.
The Special Deterrent anti-terror force said in a statement on its Facebook page that the arrest of Hashim Abedi took place as he was receiving cash transferred from his brother. The force also claimed that Hashem Abedi told authorities that both he and his brother belonged to Isis.
Salman Abedi’s father insisted on Wednesday that his son is innocent.
He said that Salman visited Libya a month-and-a-half ago.
“Salman doesn’t belong to any organisation,” he said. “The family is a bit confused because Salman doesn’t have this ideology, he doesn’t hold these beliefs.
“We condemn these terrorist acts on civilians.”
He said UK police arrested his other son, Ismail, on Tuesday.
The developments came as the British inquiry was hit by further leaks to the US media, including photos of the apparent bomb used in the attack.
The photos show that the bomb may have been concealed in a hiking backpack.
The shredded remains of the light blue Karrimor bag apparently carried by Salman Abedi can be seen in a series of “law enforcement images” on the New York Times website.
French interior minister Gérard Collomb said British investigators had told French authorities Abedi had probably travelled to Syria.
Asked if he believed Abedi had the support of a network, Mr Collomb said: “That is not known yet, but perhaps. In any case, [he had] links with Daesh (Isis) that are proven.”
Speaking to broadcasters on Wednesday, Ms Rudd said she expected the presence of soldiers on Britain’s streets, in support of armed police, would be temporary, after a decision was taken to raise the threat level in Britain from severe to critical on Tuesday night. The higher level means an attack may be imminent.
Ms Rudd also expressed her displeasure at the leaking of information on the Manchester attack by US officials, saying it was “irritating” and that she had conveyed the government’s annoyance.
“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,” she said.
Scotland Yard said that, although there will be more armed police on the streets, soldiers would take over guard duty at some buildings, under police command.
“This will include Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, embassies and the Palace of Westminster. This will free up armed officers to carry out patrols,” the police said.
Ms Rudd said up to 3,800 soldiers could be deployed on Britain’s streets.
An initial deployment of 984 had been ordered, first of all in London and then elsewhere.
Ms Rudd noted that “the last time the threat level was raised to critical it lasted five days, and before that four days”.
She told the BBC: “This is not going to be a situation which we are going to move to and arrive at a new level of need for defence or support or protection.
“This is a temporary arrangement in order to respond to an exceptional event.”
British prime minister Theresa May will chair a meeting of the British government’s Cobra emergency committee in Whitehall on Thursday morning.
The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) decided the threat level should be raised to critical on Tuesday night.
Amid questions about whether there were enough armed officers to deal with incidents outside London, Ms Rudd said she believed the police and security services had the right legislation and resources to tackle the threat facing the UK.
“They have been given the support, training and investment needed to increase the number of armed police officers and that process is ongoing. This is a response to a particular situation. This calls for additional action, research and reassurance,” she said.
The government will also review the Prevent programme, which is aimed at stopping the radicalisation of youngsters in Muslim communities, many of whom view the scheme with suspicion.
Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, said the emergency services had the right resources to deal with the attack on Tuesday, although there would be wider questions about funding at a later date.
Mr Burnham also criticised the Prevent programme, saying there was a danger of it “casting a cloud of suspicion over a whole community” in a way that could damage rather than enhance relations with the police, as happened in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
But he agreed with Ms Rudd that the bomber was unlikely to have been acting alone.
“The nature of the attack would suggest that. It wasn’t a very lone-wolf attack.”
Ms May announced the decision to raise the threat level late on Tuesday night, and all election campaigning was suspended.
Britain’s political leaders will resume campaigning on Friday.
Ms Rudd dismissed the idea - circulating online - that the prime minister had increased the terror threat opportunistically in the middle of an election, as the decision was taken by the JTAC, which is an independent body.
- Additional reporting Guardian, Reuters and PA