Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to combat the “ideology” behind Britain’s worst terrorist attack in 12 years after a suicide bombing killed 22 people at a pop concert. Islamic State claimed responsibility.
Campaigning for next month’s general election was suspended indefinitely after the attack in the northern city of Manchester. Standing outside her official residence at No. 10 Downing Street in London, clad mostly in black, May said many children had died in an act of “cold calculation.”
“This attack stands out for its appalling, sickening cowardice, deliberately targeting innocent and defenseless young people who should have been enjoying one of the most memorable nights of their lives,” she said.
At about 10:30 p.m. on Monday, just as pink balloons filled the air at the end of Ariana Grande’s concert, and her young fans started to leave, a blast ripped through the foyer of the 21,000-seat Manchester Arena. At least 59 people were wounded and taken to eight hospitals in the city, some with life-threatening injuries.
The tragedy is the latest in a series of attacks to traumatize Europe over the past two years and is sure to be discussed at this week’s meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels. U.S. President Donald Trump has been pressuring the alliance to do more to fight terrorism and he will need to decide whether he wants to push this argument at the summit.
The attack came just two weeks before the June 8 election and as Britain prepares to leave the European Union. The U.K. collaborates closely with its EU allies on security and will fall out of a lot of the bloc’s existing intelligence framework when it leaves in two years.
May, who served as home secretary from 2010 until becoming premier last year, has an intimate knowledge of the work of police and security services, and the many terrorist plots that have been foiled. The Manchester attack stands out from the most recent incidents, which have been more low-tech, relying on knives and cars.
Islamic State claimed responsibility in a statement, saying the attack was carried out by one of its followers who detonated improvised explosive devices in the concert venue. The claim was shared by SITE Intel Group, which monitors jihadist channels on social media.
Islamic State didn’t describe the bomber as a martyr, something it would typically do in the case of a suicide attack. Police and May said the perpetrator, whom they didn’t name but police believe they have identified, had died. CBS reported that he had been known to authorities beforehand.
A 23-year-old man in south Manchester was arrested as a suspected accomplice. In London, police said they’re putting more armed officers on the streets and that security would be reviewed for soccer and rugby matches at the emblematic Wembley and Twickenham stadiums.
The attack — the worst since the London bombings of 2005 — coincided with the anniversary of the murder of soldier Lee Rigby near the Royal Artillery barracks in Woolwich, southeast London, in 2013. Rigby was run down and hacked to death by two men who had been radicalized by Islamist extremist preachers.
U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in from Israel, calling the culprits “evil losers.” He is on his first foreign trip, heading to Europe for a round of summits, first in Brussels and then on to Sicily for a Group of Seven meeting.
“I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term, they would think that’s a great name,” Trump said in Bethlehem. “This wicked ideology must be obliterated, and I mean completely obliterated.”
May presided over a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee, which brings together ministers and security officials, on Tuesday morning in London. She then traveled to Manchester, and another Cobra session will be held later. The terrorism threat level remains at severe.
It’s the second time in as many years that national campaigning has been halted by extremist violence. The murder of Labour politician Jo Cox, who campaigned for the U.K. to stay in the EU, took place a week before the Brexit referendum.
The bombing also evoked memories of the attack in 2015 on the Bataclan concert venue in Paris, where gunmen mowed down rock fans. The concert-goers in Manchester were even younger, with some witnesses telling U.K. media that children as young as nine were at the event.
One witness told the BBC that parents were standing on walls screaming for their children. Hotels in the city took in children while attempts were made to trace their families. Pictures of missing teens were posted on social media by friends and relatives trying to trace them.
“The concert had finished and we were all leaving and there was an explosion to our left and people started running,” television actress Isabel Hodgins, who was at the show, told Sky. “It smelled of burning.”