The 2017 Manchester Arena Bombing

Victims outside the arena.
Victims outside the arena.

On 22 May 2017, 22-year-old British Muslim Salman Ramadan Abedi detonated a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb at the exit of Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, following a concert by American singer Ariana Grande. Twenty-three adults and children were killed, including Abedi, and 250 were injured, 59 taken to hospital, and 23 classified as critically injured.

After initial suspicions of a terrorist network, police later said they believe Abedi had largely acted alone, but that others had been aware of Abedi’s plans.

Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande

Attack

On 22 May 2017 at 22:31 BST (UTC+01:00), a suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device, packed with nuts and bolts to act as shrapnel, in the foyer area of the Manchester Arena. The attack took place after an Ariana Grande concert that was part of her 2017 Dangerous Woman Tour. 14,200 people attended the concert. Many exiting concert-goers and waiting parents were in the foyer at the time of the explosion. According to evidence presented at the coroner’s inquest, the detonation of the bomb killed people who were up to 20 metres away.

Greater Manchester Police declared the incident a terrorist attack and suicide bombing. It was the deadliest attack in the United Kingdom since the 7 July 2005 London bombings.

Aftermath

About three hours after the bombing, police conducted a controlled explosion on a suspicious item of clothing in Cathedral Gardens. This was later confirmed to have been abandoned clothing and not dangerous.

Residents and taxi companies in Manchester offered free transport or accommodation via Twitter to those left stranded at the concert. Parents of children attending the concert were separated in the aftermath of the explosion. A nearby hotel served as a shelter for children displaced by the bombing, with officials directing their parents there. Manchester’s Sikh temples (gurdwaras) along with local homeowners, hotels and venues offered shelter to victims of the attack.

Manchester Victoria railway station, which is partly underneath the arena, was evacuated and closed, and services were cancelled. The explosion caused structural damage to the station, which remained closed until the damage had been assessed and repaired, resulting in significant disruption to train and tram services. The station reopened to traffic on 30 May 2017, following the completion of police investigation work and repairs to the fabric of the building.

After a COBRA meeting with Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable, Ian Hopkins, on 23 May, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the UK’s terror threat level was raised to “critical”, its highest level. The threat level remained critical until 27 May, when it was reduced to its previous level of severe. In the aftermath of the attack Operation Temperer was activated for the first time, allowing up to 5,000 soldiers to reinforce armed police in protecting parts of the country. Tours of the Houses of Parliament and the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace were cancelled on 24 May, and troops were deployed to guard government buildings in London.

British military personnel alongside armed police as part of Operation Temperer in response to the raised threat level.
British military personnel alongside armed police as part of Operation Temperer in response to the raised threat level.

On 23 May, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, via the Nashir Telegram channel, claimed the attack was carried out by “a soldier of the Khilafah”. The message called the attack “an endeavor to terrorize the mushrikin, and in response to their transgressions against the lands of the Muslims.” Abedi’s sister speculated that he was motivated by revenge for Muslim children killed by American airstrikes in Syria.

On 14 June 2017, it was confirmed that the arena would remain closed until September, with scheduled concerts either cancelled or moved to other venues.

Casualties

The blast killed the attacker, and 22 concert-goers and parents who were in the entrance waiting to pick up their children following the show; 119 people were initially reported as injured. This number was revised by police to 250 on 22 June 2017, with the addition of psychological trauma and minor injuries. As of 26 May 2017, 75 people remained in hospital, 23 of them, including five children, in critical care. The dead included ten people under 20, the youngest an eight-year-old girl. Of the 22 victims who died, twenty were Britons and two Poles.

The 22 victims.
The 22 victims.

North West Ambulance Service reported that 60 of its ambulances attended the scene, carried 59 people to local hospitals, and treated a number of walking wounded on site. Of those hospitalised, 12 were children under the age of 16.

The first doctor thought to have been on scene was an off-duty Consultant Anaesthetist, Dr Michael Daley. In recognition of his bravery for the role he played in the immediate medical response to the incident, Daley’s name was entered into the British Medical Association Book of Valour in June 2017.

Attacker

The bomber, Salman Ramadan Abedi, was a 22-year-old British Sunni Muslim of Libyan ancestry. He was born in Manchester on 31 December 1994 to a Salafi family of Libyan-born refugees who had settled in south Manchester after fleeing to the UK to escape the government of Muammar Gaddafi. He had two brothers and a sister. He grew up in the Whalley Range area and lived in Fallowfield. According to The Times, Abedi had been among a group of students who had accused a teacher of Islamophobia for criticising suicide bombing. Some neighbours described the Abedi family as very traditional and “super religious”. However, according to an acquaintance, Abedi was “outgoing” and consumed alcohol until 2012, while another said that Abedi was a “regular kid who went out and drank” until about 2016. Abedi, his elder brother, and, prior to 2011, his father attended Didsbury Mosque. An imam at the mosque recalled that Abedi looked at him “with hate” after he preached against ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia in 2015.

Salman Abedi.
Salman Abedi.

Abedi’s parents, both born in Tripoli, returned to Libya in 2011 following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, while Abedi stayed in the United Kingdom. Abedi attended Burnage Academy for Boys in Manchester between 2009 and 2011, before going to The Manchester College until 2013 and then in 2014 enrolled at the University of Salford, where he studied business management. Abedi later dropped out to work in a bakery. Manchester police believe Abedi used student loans to finance the plot, including travel overseas to learn bomb-making. The Guardian reported he may have received loan funding as recently as April.

He was known to British security services and police but was not regarded as a high risk, having been linked to petty crime but never flagged up for radical views. A community worker told the BBC he had called a hotline five years before the bombing to warn police about Abedi’s views and members of Britain’s Libyan diaspora said they had “warned authorities for years” about Manchester’s Islamist radicalisation. Abedi was allegedly reported to authorities for his extremism by as many as five community leaders and family members and had been banned from a mosque; the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, though, said Abedi was not known to the “Prevent” anti-radicalisation programme. On 29 May, MI5 launched an internal inquiry into its handling of the warnings it had received about Abedi and a second, “more in depth” inquiry, into how it missed the danger.

According to a retired European intelligence officer, Abedi was in contact with members of the ISIS Battar brigade in Sabratha, Libya. Greater Manchester police said that Abedi made “core purchases” for the construction of the bomb in the four days between his return from Libya and the attack, apparently constructing the bomb by himself.

Investigation

The property in Fallowfield where Abedi lived was raided on 23 May. Armed police breached the house with a controlled explosion and searched it. Abedi’s 23-year-old brother was arrested in Chorlton-cum-Hardy in south Manchester in relation to the attack. Police carried out raids in two other areas of south Manchester and another address in the Whalley Range area. Three other men were arrested, and police initially spoke of a network supporting the bomber, although police later announced that Abedi had sourced all the bomb components himself, and they now believed he had largely acted alone. On 6 July, police said that they believed others had been aware of Abedi’s plans.

According to German police sources, Abedi transited through Düsseldorf airport on his way home to Manchester from Istanbul four days before the bombing. French interior minister Gérard Collomb said in an interview with BFM TV that Abedi may have been to Syria, and had “proven” links with ISIS. Abedi’s younger brother and father were arrested by Libyan security forces on 23 and 24 May respectively. The brother was suspected of planning an attack in Libya, and was said to be in regular touch with Salman, and aware of the plan to bomb the Manchester Arena, but not the date. According to a Libyan official, the brothers spoke on the phone about 15 minutes before the attack was carried out.

Photographs of the remains of the IED published by The New York Times indicated that it had comprised an explosive charge inside a lightweight metal container which was carried within a black vest or a blue Karrimor backpack. Most of the fatalities occurred in a ring around the bomber. His torso was propelled by the blast through the doors to the arena, possibly indicating that the explosive charge was held in the backpack and blew him forward on detonation. A small device thought to have possibly been a hand-held detonator was also found. US Congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, indicated that the bomb contained the explosive TATP, which has been used in previous bombings. According to Manchester police, the explosive device used by Abedi was the design of a skilled bomb-maker and had a back-up means of detonation. Police also said Salman Abedi “bought most of Manchester bomb components himself” and that he was alone during much of the time before the carrying out the Manchester bombing.

Police released images showing Abedi on the night of the bombing, taken from CCTV footage. Police released images on 29 May showing Abedi walking around Manchester with a blue suitcase.

According to US intelligence sources, Abedi was identified by the bank card that he had with him and the identification confirmed using facial recognition technology.

Twenty-two people were arrested in connection with the attack, all of whom had been released without charge by 11 June.

News leaks

Within hours of the attack, Abedi’s name and other information given confidentially to security services in the United States and France were leaked to the news media, leading to condemnation from Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Following the publication of crime scene photographs of the backpack bomb used in the attack in the 24 May edition of The New York Times, UK counterterrorism police chiefs said the release of the material was detrimental to the investigation.

On 25 May, Greater Manchester Police said it had stopped sharing information on the attack with the US intelligence services. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, said she would make clear to President Trump that “intelligence that has been shared must be made secure.” Trump described the leaks to the news media as “deeply troubling”, and pledged to carry out a full investigation. British officials blamed the leaks on “the breakdown of normal discipline at the White House and in the US security services”. New York Times editor Dean Baquet declined to apologise for publishing the backpack bomb photographs, saying “We live in different press worlds” and that the material was not classified at the highest level.

On 26 May, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States government accepted full responsibility for the leaks.

Reactions

United Kingdom

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, condemned the bombing, and in a later statement following the June 2017 London attack, she stated that these attacks along with the 2017 Westminster attack were “bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamist extremism” and said this extremism was “a perversion of Islam”. Queen Elizabeth II expressed her sympathy to the families of the victims. Campaigning for the general election was suspended by all political parties for two days after the attack. The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, called the attack “evil” and announced a vigil in Albert Square the following evening, which thousands attended. The Muslim Council of Britain also condemned the attack.

Floral tributes to the victims of the attack in St Ann's Square in Manchester city centre.
Floral tributes to the victims of the attack in St Ann’s Square in Manchester city centre.

On 25 May 2017, a national minute’s silence was observed to remember the victims.

Police reported a 500% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the Greater Manchester area in the month following the attack.

International

Condolences were expressed by the leaders and governments of dozens of countries, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Pope Francis, and Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Yousef Al-Othaimeen.

Ariana Grande posted on her official Twitter account: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.” Grande subsequently suspended her tour and flew back to her mother’s home in Florida.

On 9 July 2017, a performance to benefit the Manchester bombing victims is set to be held in New York City’s The Cutting Room, called “Break Free: United for Manchester”, with Broadway theatre and television performers interpreting Ariana Grande songs. Performers include Alex Newell.

One Love Manchester

On 4 June, Ariana Grande hosted a benefit concert in Manchester, entitled “One Love Manchester” at Old Trafford Cricket Ground that was broadcast live on television, radio and social media. At the concert, Grande performed along with several other high profile artists. Free tickets were offered to those who had attended the show on 22 May. The benefit concert and associated Red Cross fund, raised £10 million for victims of the attack.

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