At least 19 people were killed and 60 injured in a suspected terror attack at a concert in Manchester on Monday night, making the northern English city the latest western target of attacks that have hit Paris, Stockholm, London and Berlin in the past six months.
Greater Manchester Police said they were treating the explosion that rocked Manchester Arena as a terrorist incident. Amber Rudd, UK home secretary, said the Manchester explosion was a “barbaric attack, deliberately targeting some of the most vulnerable in our society”.
If confirmed as terrorism, the blast would be the worst such incident in the UK since the Islamist suicide bombings on London underground trains and a bus in 2005, which killed 52.
Police said the explosion took place at 10.33pm. People reported a huge bang as they left the arena following a performance by US singer Ariana Grande, whose fan base is predominantly teenage girls.
The attack on a music concert crowd recalled the Paris attacks of November 2015 in which 130 died, many of them slaughtered by three Islamist gunmen at the Bataclan concert hall. After the Manchester blast, friends and family unable to get in touch with their loved ones in the panic and chaos were posting their portraits on social media in a search for information.
Theresa May, the UK prime minister, is expected to chair a meeting of the cabinet emergency Cobra committee on Tuesday (today).
The arena said the explosion took place just outside the core part of the venue “in a public space”. British Transport police said the explosion happened in the foyer near the ticket office.
Ian Hopkins, chief constable of Greater Manchester, held a 3am press conference and urged the public to remain vigilant. “We are continuing to treat this as a terrorist incident,” he said, adding that the force was liaising with intelligence and security services. The North West Ambulance Service said 60 ambulances had attended the incident, and that 59 casualties had been taken to hospital. It said it had also treated a number of walking wounded at the scene.
Theresa May, prime minister, said it appeared to be an “appalling attack”. “We are working to establish the full details of what is being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack. All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected.” She said she would suspend campaigning in the general election on Tuesday.
Greater Manchester Police, the biggest city force in the UK outside London, asked people to steer clear of the area. Hospitals were turning away non-emergency cases. “Please avoid the area as first responders work tirelessly at the scene,” a statement said. Many city centre streets were cordoned off and the police presence on the ground was supported by helicopters patrolling above.
The US Department of Homeland Security said it was “closely monitoring” the situation at Manchester Arena in the wake of the incident. “We are working with our foreign counterparts to obtain additional information about the cause of the reported explosion as well as the extent of injuries and fatalities,” the department said in a statement. “At this time, we have no information to indicate a specific credible threat involving music venues in the United States.
However, the public may experience increased security in and around public places and events as officials take additional precautions. We stand ready to assist our friends and allies in the UK in all ways necessary as they investigate and recover from this incident.” Manchester remained on edge through the evening.
At about 1.30am, bomb disposal officers carried out a controlled explosion on a suspect device near the arena in a small park by the city’s cathedral. It turned out to be abandoned clothing, police said. Train services from Manchester Victoria station, situated below the concert arena, were severely disrupted, with no trains able to leave or arrive.
Britain’s threat level from terrorism is at severe, which means an attack is thought likely. In 1995, a massive IRA bomb exploded in Manchester city centre. Because a warning was given, only one person was injured but several streets were devastated.
A witness named Emma told BBC Radio Manchester that Monday night’s explosion had shattered glass in the foyer. She, her husband and two teenage daughters managed to escape: “There were bodies everywhere. I really don’t know how we survived it.” Rachel, another concertgoer, told the radio station: “Everyone had started leaving and there was a massive explosion. Everyone started screaming.
There was so much panic. You couldn’t get out because there were so many crowds of people.” Catherine Macfarlane told Reuters: “We were making our way out and when we were right by the door there was a massive explosion and everybody was screaming. “It was a huge explosion — you could feel it in your chest. It was chaotic. Everybody was running and screaming and just trying to get out.”
See Video from the bomb scene below: