British security services were in a race against time Wednesday, May 24, to prevent more terrorist attacks in the country, in the wake of Monday’s suicide bombing in Manchester which left 22 people dead and 64 injured – some 20 still in critical condition.
Intelligence services now believe that the suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, 22, manufactured several explosive devices and passed them on to other members of the network to use or for further distribution for more attacks. They reached this conclusion from the evidence of more that one device which they discovered while searching his address in a part of South Manchester.
For the first time since 2003, therefore, the British army is spread out in town centers across the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Theresa May Tuesday night raised the terrorist alert level to “critical” and mobilized 3,000 soldiers for armed patrols in the cities and at crowd centers, railway stations, airports and public institutions. Parliament and Buckingham Palace have been closed to visitors and surrounded by armed troops.
British security and intelligence services are freely admitting that Salman Abedi was known to the police – but not as a “high risk.” The part of South Manchester, where the bomber maintained one of his addresses, was known as the haunt of at least 16 Muslim extremists who went to Syria. Some were killed there fighting for ISIS.. Wednesday, five more suspects were picked up as Abedi’s associates.
More facts emerging about the Manchester bomber, who was born locally to Libyan parents and dropped out of university after two years, indicate that he managed to stay out of sight for some time, while collecting the materials for manufacturing bombs. Indeed, he has since been discovered to have traveled to Libya and returned home just days before he reached the packed Manchester Arena to blow up young music fans, without touching off red alarms.
The British are also embarrassed by their difference of opinion with the French authorities over which terrorist organization ran Abedi, although the Islamic State claimed responsibility for his attack.
British anti-terror intelligence officials believe he belonged to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – LIFG, one of whose leaders is reputed to be an expert bombmaker. This group is based in Libya, where Abedi’s parents still live. With roots in Al Qaeda, the LIFG fought against Col. Qaddafi and was crushed. Some of its leaders who fled into exile ended up in Manchester.
However, French intelligence have information that the bomber used his Libyan trip for a secret side-journey to Syria where he had “proven links” with the Islamic State. This information was relayed to Prime Minister May by French interior Minister Gerard Collomb, and is being investigated by the British. Collomb urged the two countries to continue cooperating closely on counterterrorism efforts even though Britain was on its way out of the European Union.
But the top priority of the British authorities is determining who constructed the bomb that caused such carnage and locating any other devices that may have been smuggled out of Abedi’s address. Closed-circuit TV cameras showed Abedi placing an explosives-laden backpack on the ground in the foyer of Manchester Arena just as the Ariana Grande was ending. The manhunt for his support network has spread across western Europe.
Local police are still unable to determine the number of people missing after the blast. However, the longer they are not traced, the less chance of finding them alive, since those who were closest to the explosion will be hard to identify.