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Manchester is united in defiance of terror

City stands strong after bombing that killed 22 people following Ariana Grande concert

A man cries during a vigil for the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing, at Albert Square in Manchester. Photograph: Jose Sarmento Matos/The New York Times
Tributes at a vigil for the people who lost their lives during the Manchester terror attack in central Manchester. Photograph: Andy Rain /EPA

Nadia Abdulmalek, a 55-year-old Muslim teacher originally from Libya, and Deborah Henley, a 52-year-old flight attendant who is half-Jewish and half-Irish, did not know each other.

It did not matter.

They embraced and cried among a crowd of thousands at Manchester Town Hall at a vigil on Tuesday evening to remember the 22 people killed by a suicide bomber at a pop concert on Monday night.

“We are one,” said Ms Abdulmalek through tears as she hugged Ms Henley. “They tried to divide us.”

Packed into a sun-drenched Albert Square were Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, determined to show that the actions of the attacker – named by police as 22-year-old Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old Manchester-born son of Libyan refugees – would not divide one of Britain’s most mixed and multicultural communities.

This was Manchester, united.

“That lady there is Manchester,” said Ms Henley of the stranger she had just hugged. “We are all Manchester. It doesn’t matter about your religion, your faith or where in the world you come from today – you are in Manchester.”

Ms Abdulmalek, a Muslim mother and grandmother, joined the vigil to support the families of the victims and the 59 injured in an attack that targeted the most vulnerable: young girls enjoying a special night out.

“He didn’t do a favour to Muslims,” she said of her fellow member of Manchester’s Libyan community.

Abedi was claimed on Tuesday by the Islamic State militant extremist group as a “caliphate soldier”.

“He was brain-washed by I don’t know who,” Ms Abdulmalek told The Irish Times. “I pray for his family. I feel sorry for his family.”

Tabet (23), her Manchester-born son, said the city was “too strong” to be divided by Abedi’s act of violence, the worst terrorist act in the UK since the July 7th bombings in 2005 that claimed 52 lives.

“We are united. We don’t want anyone to split us. We are still united,” his mother continued.

Disbelief to defiance

Feelings in Manchester on Tuesday ranged from disbelief to defiance.

People sharing thoughts at the vigil could not understand why Abedi carried his homemade bomb from Manchester’s Victoria Station into the foyer of the Manchester Arena, after US pop singer Ariana Grande finished her concert, and detonated it at 10.33pm, turning nails and bolts into killing debris.

At least 12 of his victims were children, including one as young as eight. Saffie Rose Roussos was a pupil at Tarleton primary school in Lancashire. She was remembered by head teacher Chris Upton as “simply a beautiful little girl in every aspect of the word”.

Georgina Callander (18) was another of Abedi’s victims.

“They were babies,” said Ms Henley at the vigil. “They had the groomed hair, the new dresses on, the little handbags over their shoulders. To consciously think and do that without being ill makes you a monster.”

“It is callous, beyond comprehension,” said Elena Rowe (28), a pub owner standing next to her Derry-born partner Andrew Munro (35), a few feet away in Albert Square.

“Complete blind insanity and stupidity – it breaks my heart.”

British prime minister Theresa May called the deliberate targeting of defenceless children as an act of “appalling, sickening cowardice”.

Acts of kindness

In Manchester on Tuesday night, people preferred to point to the random acts of kindness by Mancunians in the hours after Abedi’s attack: Muslim cab drivers ferrying stranded concertgoers home free; Sikh temples in Manchester offering food and shelter; strangers offering cups of tea and beds for the night.

“This is a perfect example,” said Andrew Munro of Manchester’s spirit of unity, pointing to the huge crowd around him. “This will make the community stronger in Manchester.”

As the clock above chimed six times over the swelling crescendo of Elgar’s Nimrod, the crowd burst into another spontaneous round of applause to show that the city would not bow to terror.

Above signs that read “I Love Manchester”, “Solidarity Is Our Strength” and “Love For All, Hatred For None”, the city’s public and religious leaders lifted spirits by pointing to the city’s tradition of unity.

“The people of Manchester will remember the victims forever and we will defy the terrorists by all our diverse communities working together, cohesively and with mutual respect,” said Eddy Newman, the lord mayor of Manchester, to sustained cheering and applause.

He was joined on stage by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, UK home secretary Amber Rudd and the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.

Ode to Manchester

Poet Tony Walsh read This Is The Place, his powerful ode to Manchester and its soccer, singing and suffragette legends. The crowd lapped up his line: “Make us a brew while you’re up, love, go on.”

These stubborn acts of public resistance to terror contrasted with earlier in the day when, in the hours after the attack, the streets were eerily quiet except for whining sirens and revving police motorcycles.

Throughout Tuesday, with limited information being released by the police and the emergency services, people pleaded for information about loved ones on social media. They shared photographs of young faces that had not been seen since they left to see their favourite pop star the night before.

“Someone please just find me little sis man, just really want her home, want to hear her voice,” Scott Rutherford tweeted in his online search for his sister Chloe (17) and her friend Liam Curry (19).

At the end of Tuesday night’s 20-minute vigil, a candle was lit and there was a minute’s silence before the crowd erupted in chants of “Manchester! Manchester! Manchester!”

In acts of solidarity, thousands remained on in the square long after the public event had ended.

“Everyone coming together,” said Tabet Abdulmalek, the young Manchester Muslim. “That’s what makes Manchester strong.”