LONDON — British PM Theresa May has increased the terror threat level from severe to critical, believing another attack is imminent.
The death toll in the Manchester Arena attack makes it the third deadliest terrorist atrocity on British soil, after the bombing of an airplane over Lockerbie in 1988 and the London bombings in 2005.
That the attacker went for the softest of soft targets — children and teenagers packed into the enclosed space of a pop concert — makes it all the more horrifying. As Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday morning, the attack “stands out for its appalling, sickening cowardice.”
Although Monday’s atrocity was particularly shocking in nature, Manchester and the wider United Kingdom have a long memory of terror attacks. For more than 30 years from the early 1970s, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a paramilitary group, carried out multiple attacks across the UK.
The deadliest were the Birmingham pub bombings of 1974, when 21 were killed. In 1996, the IRA detonated a massive 1500-kilogram (3300-pound) bomb in a Manchester shopping center not far from Monday night’s attack, injuring more than 200. The explosion destroyed buildings but a cast iron red postbox not far from the blast site remained unscathed; its image came to symbolize the resilience of the city.
Singer Ariane Grande released this song on YouTube this afternoon.
Grande had just performed her last song, “Dangerous Woman,” to delighted fans, and the lights had just come on.
As the crowd began to move, many of them children wearing bunny ears like their idol, eyewitnesses at Monday’s concert at the Manchester Arena described a loud, sharp bang, and then chaos broke out.
“Ariana had just finished her last song. We were getting ready to leave the arena and the next minute we heard a mighty bang coming from the left-hand side of the arena,” Carole Long, who was at the concert with her 10-year-old daughter Robin, told CNN.
“Everyone went crazy and was running and screaming and trying to get out and jumping over seats. How we weren’t crushed to death is amazing. People were just pushing and pushing and pushing. The stewards were screaming at people to get out.”
Other witnesses say the sound of what police believe was an improvised explosive device — detonated by one man who was killed in the blast — was short and sharp like a gun shot, and then the air was filled with smoke.
Twenty two people have been conformed dead, some of them children, and dozens others injured in the worst terror attack in Britain for 12 years.
The crowd was made up of mainly young people who had come to see Grande in her first of three scheduled concerts in the UK, on her European and Latin American tour.
Abby Mullen, who had traveled down from Scotland for the gig, posted her recollection of the horrific attack on Facebook from her hotel room.
“I thought we would leave seconds before the last song finished … to get home quicker instead of waiting longer for a taxi. As we were leaving a bomb or explosion went off meters in front of me”, she wrote.
“Peoples skin, blood and faeces where everywhere including in my hair & on my bag. I’m still finding bits of god knows what in my hair.”
Andy James had taken his nine-year-old brother to what was his first ever pop concert. He said the explosion happened at around 10:40 p.m. as they were walking up the stairs to leave.
“It must have been about 40 feet from where we were. We heard the explosion and the boom rattled in my chest. You could just feel it on the ground.
“We left to go in the opposite direction of where the explosion happened. There was a stampede of people, I was trying to help people up as we were leaving.
James said that as he ushered his little brother out, “I had my hand on his chest and his heart was beating so fast.”
“There was just bodies scattered about everywhere … it was just chaos,” Kiera Dawber told CNN. “There was at least 20 or 30 people on the floor, some that you could see straight off were just … just dead.”
Dawber said she saw a man holding his wife. “She wasn’t in a very good state,” Dawber said.
“The injuries I saw … it didn’t look like the sort of injuries that people get from tripping over people in a hurry,” said Joel Goodman, a freelance photographer on the scene.
Parents shouting out and yelling names
Ivo Delgado, another witness, recalled hearing one explosion before he saw people running.
“It was more a moment of confusion, but still the bang was really great, really massive,” he said. “I saw at least 3 people on the floor injured.”
“There was a lot of little girls running out, and parents shouting out and yelling names,” Delgado said.
Sam Ward, who lives by the arena, said the loud bang sounded “really nothing like I have ever heard in the city center before.”
“Initially after the first wave of sirens and the initial evacuation, it was filled with cars. The roads were actually bedlam. People actually going through red lights,” he said.
Search for the missing
Meanwhile the search goes on for those still missing, including Charlotte Campbell’s 15-year-old daughter Olivia, who had gone to the concert with her friend Adam to celebrate his birthday.
Campbell had spoken to her daughter just before 10 p.m. but hasn’t heard from her since.
“We’ve tried everything we can. They’re telling us to wait by the phones,” Campbell told CNN. “Her dad is out looking … It’s the most horrible feeling ever, to know your daughter is there and you don’t know whether she’s dead or alive.
“I want her home and I want her safe … I just want her to walk through the door.”
Her daughter has been registered as a missing person.