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Manchester attack: Sombre scenes in UK as army deployed in key places

The Greater Manchester Police said three people were arrested, with unconfirmed reports saying one was suspected suicide bomber Salman Abedi’s brother.

world Updated: May 24, 2017 21:09 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
British soldiers enter a defence ministry building near the New Scotland Yard headquarters in London.
British soldiers enter a defence ministry building near the New Scotland Yard headquarters in London.(AFP)

There were emotional scenes on Wednesday as people laid flowers, cards, lit candles and said silent prayers for the 22 killed in Monday’s terror attack in Manchester, and Britain saw the rare spectacle of the army being deployed in key places in London and elsewhere.

The army was deployed in Northern Ireland during the troubles, but rarely in mainland Britain. The deployment of 3,800 soldiers in places such as Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, foreign missions and Westminster indicated the level of threat assessed by security agencies.

As large vigils were held across the country, a Downing Street spokesperson told Hindustan Times that Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed to Prime Minister Theresa May India’s deepest condolences, and said India’s prayers were with all of those affected.

“Prime Minister Modi congratulated the people of Manchester on their courage, patience and spirit. They agreed the UK and India would continue to cooperate closely on counter-terrorism, including aviation security and countering online radicalisation,” the spokesperson added.

The Greater Manchester Police said a “network” of accomplices was being investigated as three people were arrested on Wednesday, bringing the total to four after one man was held on Tuesday. One of the arrested is said to be the brother of the suspect, Salman Abedi.

The police also confirmed that one of the dead was a serving police officer who was off duty, and added that all the deceased had been identified. Counter-terrorism operations were described as “intense” and included a raid in a block of flats in Manchester on Wednesday.

A meeting of the government’s emergency committee (called “Cobra”) was held on Wednesday morning – the third in 24 hours – as home secretary Amber Rudd suggested that Abedi may not have acted alone in the Manchester Arena attack. Tuesday evening’s meeting raised the terror threat level from “severe” to “critical”.

Officials tracing his life and recent activities suggested that Abedi, 22, of Libyan parentage, had recently returned from a visit to Libya. It was also likely that he was a “mule” for a bomb made by others who were still at large.

A BBC Radio station was briefly evacuated and a man with a knife was arrested near the Buckingham Palace as London saw heightened security, but the two incidents were said to be unrelated to the counter-terrorism investigations.

Abedi’s Libya-based father reportedly said his son was not guilty, while the British-Libyan community in Manchester issues a statement: “This attack was an attack on all of us. Such depraved acts have no basis in Islam.”

“We support the police in bringing the perpetrators to justice, and in protecting the people of Manchester and the rest of the UK. Many members of the community in Manchester are doctors who stand side by side with their colleagues to ensuring that victims and other patients receive the best possible care at this difficult time,” it added.

Campaigning for the June 8 election remained suspended, but senior Labour leader Yvette Cooper, who also chaired the influential home affairs committee in the last parliament, said all parties will want to support the police and security agencies.

She said: “This was a truly vile attack - it’s just incomprehensible, the idea of attacking children in this way - and they have got a job to do in the police force, they have got a job that we have to support them in doing.”

“The expert advice about raising the threat level will be because they want to make sure that they have investigated every possibility about whether there is a network in place that this man was a part of. And we need to support them in doing that.”