Ariana Grande had finished a 22-song concert with an encore of “Dangerous Woman” and a shower of pink balloons in Manchester, England on Monday, May 22nd around 10:30 p.m., when a bomb went off in the outside foyer of the venue, near the main exit. “It was so strong it blew people backwards,” 15-year-old concertgoer Elliot Smorger tells Rolling Stone. “I had no idea what was going on and just covered my head. It was so scary.” He suffered cuts from metal shrapnel scratching the side of his head. Others were not so lucky.
The blast has claimed the lives of 22 concertgoers, at press time, and it sent 59 others to the hospital, making it the deadliest such attack in the country since 2005. The Islamic State has since claimed responsibility for the attack, according to The New York Times. Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old British man of Libyan descent, has been identified as the Manchester Arena bomber, the New York Times reports. Abedi lived 3.5 miles away from the venue.
On Wednesday morning, police arrested three men in south Manchester in connection with the attack, Bloomberg reports. Police previously arrested a 23-year-old man, believed by locals to be the bomber’s brother, on Tuesday morning.
The British government’s terror threat level is at its highest (“critical”) in a decade. Accordingly, Houses of Parliament have canceled all tours, the Bank of England’s museum is closed, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was canceled. Prime Minister May deployed military to aid armed police at music and sports events. Campaigning for the June 8th general election is also suspended.
In Tripoli, Libya, meanwhile, two of Abedi’s relatives, including his younger brother Hashem, were arrested Tuesday, and are suspected of planning an attack in that country. Counterterrorism authorities noted that Hashem had been in contact with his brother regarding the Manchester attack, but his exact involvement in the U.K. bombing is still unknown.
Due to the raised national security threat level, Parliament will be closed to non-passholders until further notice. https://t.co/4ZtivqqT8e
— UK Parliament (@UKParliament) May 24, 2017
In the aftermath of the bombing, Abedi’s neighbors who prefer to remain anonymous, described the young man as a “loner” who “turned weird,” to Rolling Stone. They also said that he seemed obsessed with the Quran (his mother taught the Quran and was away for an extended period of time recently). Abedi’s parents emigrated to the outskirts of Manchester form Libya after fleeing the Gaddafi regime. One neighbor said it was believed Abedi’s brother was the 22-year-old man arrested by police in connection with the concert bombing.
“It has been weird and we’ve all commented on how things have changed down our road,” one neighbor told Rolling Stone. “[Abedi] was seen carrying his Quran everywhere, whenever he left the house, which wasn’t overly often recently.”
“He could be heard chanting loudly at home and would talk to himself as he walked down the street,” said another neighbor. “He wouldn’t reply if you said hello.”
“The entire family have been keeping themselves to themselves and only now do you look back and think there was something seriously wrong. I don’t believe that Salman did this on his own,” said another local. Police have raided the home and a small explosion was carried out on the premises. Officers were seen carrying paraphernalia from the home including a book entitled ‘Know Your Chemicals’
Since the detonation occurred at a time when concertgoers would be leaving the 21,000-capacity venue, it caused widespread confusion. The crowd, many of whom were teenagers or younger and some of whom had attended without their parents, began stampeding for exits. Video and photos of the immediate aftermath show children and some parents running and screaming, as they dashed for the exits. Other parents, expecting to pick up their children at meeting points, patiently watched the melee hoping to spot their kids. And as others made their way up the arena stairs, an announcer with an American accent told the crowd, “Please take your time. There’s no need to bunch up. There’s no problems here. … Everything is fine.”
Meanwhile, those working at the nearby Victoria Station railway – a one-minute walk from the arena – were still making sense of the explosion they heard. “Even with all the training, nothing can prepare you for knowing a bomb is near you,” Craig Rowe, a Network Rail employee, tells Rolling Stone Tuesday morning. Once those working there assessed what had happened, they elevated security measures in the station as they anticipated the heavy foot traffic it would be receiving.
“They think the bomber only targeted the entrance and exit point because he feared he would be sussed otherwise if he tried to go any further in,” Rowe says. “Armed police were everywhere and they came running into the station, I think they feared there was another one here. Everything was shut down and the emergency code was activated. They did a sweep but nothing was found.”
Shortly after the explosion, a representative for Grande reported that the singer was “OK.” She later tweeted: “Broken. From the bottom of my heart, I am so so sorry. I don’t have words.” Grande’s international tour is currently suspended and the singer reportedly returned to her Florida home immediately after the attack.
The Greater Manchester Police Department was first contacted about an incident at the arena around 10:30 p.m. They sent a tweet advising people to clear the area. By 11:44, they were reporting “confirmed fatalities.” Hours later, they reported that they were treating the explosion as a terrorist attack. Around that time, they also detonated their own “controlled explosion” in Cathedral Garden and later reported that it had been abandoned clothing. They also set up a phone number for those who were concerned about their loved ones.
Meanwhile, concerned adults in the area attempted to look after displaced children. Paula Robinson, a 48-year-old woman who was at Victoria Station at the time of the blast, collected more than 50 kids and took them to a nearby hotel where she looked after them and served as a point of contact for parents, putting her phone number on Facebook.
“I did nothing that nobody else would do,” she told Rolling Stone. “I thought of my own kids and I just know what I would have wanted them to be looked after and taken away from the area if I couldn’t have done it. … I have children and I have grandkids, it makes me feel sick to think of those little lives lost.” She added that she was “no hero.”
Police were reporting Tuesday afternoon that all of the children who had been in hotels were accounted for.
At just past 6:30 a.m., Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins called the attack the “most horrific incident” the city had faced. He said that those injured were being treated at eight different hospitals in the city. He claimed that the attack had been carried out by one man who had died in the arena. Police had dispatched more patrolmen on Tuesday and Hopkins reported that more than 400 had worked on the investigation overnight.
Hours later, authorities reported that they had arrested a 23-year-old man in connection with the bombing in South Manchester. They did not reveal his identity or any other information.
They also executed warrants to investigate the attack in the Whalley Range and Fallowfield areas, both of which are about four miles south of the arena. The Manchester Evening News reported that locals saw bomb disposal experts and about 40 uniformed police officers, half of whom were carrying machine guns, in Fallowfield; they set off a controlled explosion. Residents in Whalley Range reported a similar scene but with fewer officers.
Mayor Andy Burnham has subsequently planned a vigil for 6 p.m. in Manchester City Centre’s Albert Square. With that announcement, police released a statement that underscored while the arena remains cordoned off, “Manchester will not be defeated.”
Theresa May, the country’s prime minister, called the attack “callous” and said that the bomber had planned it in a way that would cause “maximum carnage.” “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 in a televised statement.
President Trump called the attackers “evil losers in life,” while on his first foreign trip to Bethlehem, Israel. “I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term, they would think that is a great name,” he said. “I will call them, from now on, losers, because that’s what they are: They’re losers. And we’ll have more of them. But they’re losers, just remember that … This wicked ideology must be obliterated, and I mean completely obliterated.”
“Terrorists attempt to disrupt our lives and create distrust and fear in communities,” Chief Constable Hopkins said in his 6:30 statement. “We have a long history in Greater Manchester of communities standing together during difficult times.”
It’s a sentiment that rail-worker Rowe echoed Tuesday, though Victoria Station is closed for the time being. “I was back in this morning and I have to say I am so proud of how this city has got back on its feet,” he says. “Manchester is a strong city and although it is awful, it has brought people together. People won’t let these idiots stop us. I’m proud to be British on days like today.”
Additional reporting by Sian Hewitt and Omid Scobie from Britain.