- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2017

With British officials still uncertain Tuesday whether the suicide bomber who claimed 22 lives in Manchester a day earlier acted alone, Prime Minister Theresa May warned a stunned and grieving nation that the United Kingdom’s terrorism threat level was being raised to “critical” and that “a further attack may be imminent.”

Counterterrorism officials identified a British citizen of Libyan descent as the man who detonated himself on Monday night after an Ariana Grande concert attended mostly by teenage girls and their parents in Manchester. It was the worst terrorist strike in the nation in more than a decade.

Police raided the home of 22-year-old Salman Ramadan Abedi early Tuesday as fears soared across Europe.

Families and leaders spent the day sharing expressions of pain over those who perished and voiced concern for the 119, including 12 children, who were wounded in the attack.

Saffie Rose Roussos, 8, was one of the first victims who was identified.

Ms. May sought to ease fears by saying she did “not want the public to feel unduly alarmed,” but she called on “everybody to be vigilant and to cooperate” with police, who could be joined by deployments of armed British soldiers at public events under the rules of the government’s threat-level escalation.

“While we mourn the victims of last’s night’s appalling attack, we stand defiant,” Ms. May said in an address to the nation. “The spirit of Manchester and the spirit of Britain is far mightier than the sick plots of depraved terrorists.”

Hours before her remarks, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Manchester attack. The terrorist group asserted in a statement online that Abedi was “one of the soldiers of the caliphate [who] placed explosive devices in a gathering of crusaders in the middle of the British city of Manchester.”

The statement said the strike was a calculated response to “transgressions against the lands of the Muslims.” Terrorism analysts said it was likely a reference to Britain’s participation in the U.S.-led military coalition battling to retake territory in Syria and Iraq from the group, also known as ISIS and ISIL.

It was not immediately clear how tangibly Abedi may be connected to the Islamic State group. The 22-year-old, whose parents reportedly immigrated from Libya to the United Kingdom before his birth in 1994, is believed to have been on the radar of MI5 — the domestic intelligence agency — for suspected ties to extremist groups inside Britain.

Authorities offered few details publicly. “I can confirm that the man suspected of carrying out last night’s atrocity has been named as 22-year-old Salman Abedi,” Greater Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said during a press conference after the search of the man’s residence in a suburb just a few miles from Manchester Arena.

Reports described Abedi as quiet man who respected his elders and attended regular services at his neighborhood mosque.

Counterterrorism officials also searched the home of Ismael Abedi, Mr. Abedi’s brother, who also lived in Manchester, according to a report by The Guardian, although it was unclear whether the brother had been taken into policy custody.

The bombing was the worst in the U.K. since the “7/7 attacks” of July 7, 2005, carried out by al Qaeda operatives who targeted buses and subway stations in central London, leaving 56 people dead and more than 700 wounded.

Thousands gathered for a vigil at Victoria Square in Manchester’s city center, following an increasingly common scene of mourning in the wake of attacks in France, Belgium and Germany.

Less than two months ago, 52-year-old Khalid Masood, a self-radicalized terrorist, plowed through pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge in London and fatally stabbed a police officer before he was killed by law enforcement. The Islamic State group also claimed credit for that attack, which left five people dead and over 50 wounded.

U.S. lawmakers and Trump administration officials expressed sympathy for victims and condemned violent extremists.

“Out hearts go out to the families of those who have lost loved ones and to those injured,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said in a statement that noted it was too early to determine responsibility for the attack, despite the Islamic State claim.

President Trump, joined by Mr. Tillerson on a diplomatic visit to the Middle East and Europe, lamented the “wicked ideology” that fuels groups like the Islamic State. “The terrorists and extremists, and those who give them aid and comfort, must be driven out of our society forever,” the president said. “I won’t call them ‘monsters’ because they would like that term. They would think that’s a great name. I will call them from now on losers, because that’s what they are.”

Rep. K. Michael Conaway, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, opened a committee hearing with a prayer for the victims in Manchester. Former CIA chief John O. Brennan, who was testifying, wished them “godspeed.”

“Sadly, Manchester will be a harbinger of more activities in the West,” former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said.

“You will see ISIS become more active and more aggressive in a variety of places in the West, having lost the caliphate and the cities like Raqqa and Mosul as people leave, scurry away from those sites,” Mr. Gates said at a conference held by the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Asserting that it made no difference whether the Islamic State had directly organized the attack or served only as the encouraging factor, Mr. Gates said attacks like the one in Manchester will serve to inspire future jihadis even after the terrorist group is driven out of Syria and Iraq.

David Boyer, Laura Kelly and Guy Taylor contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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