Britain was in anguish on Tuesday after 22 people were killed and nearly 60 injured when a suicide bomber targeted a concert hall in Manchester, described as the worst terrorist attack in the country for more than a decade.
Victims included children – the youngest an 8-year-old girl – and teenagers who had gathered for a sell-out concert in the Manchester Arena (capacity: 21,000) by popular US singer Ariana Grande.
Political parties suspended campaigning for the June 8 election and investigators hunted for accomplices of the bomber, identified as 22-year-old Salman Abedi. BBC said the individual was “British or UK born”.
One 23-year-old man was arrested in Chorlton, south Manchester, in connection with the incident. Hours later, police set off a controlled explosion and raided a house in Elsmore Road, about 6 km from the arena.
A spokesman of the Indian high commission told HT that there was no information so far of any Indian casualty, but added that a list of nationalities of the victims was awaited from the police.
Queen Elizabeth said: “The whole nation has been shocked by the death and injury in Manchester last night of so many people, adults and children, who had just been enjoying a concert”.
Britain remains at the threat level of ‘severe’ from international terrorism.
The Greater Manchester Police (GMP) confirmed that the blast with a ‘home-made device’ was carried out by one individual, but did not reveal his identity. It was the first terror attack of this scale since the July 2005 serial blasts across London’s transport network that killed more than 50 people.
Prime Minister Theresa May chaired an emergency meeting (called Cobra) in Downing Street and later addressed the nation, announcing that many of the injured had ‘life-threatening injuries’ and that the individual responsible for the blast had also perished in the attack.
All political parties announced the suspension of their campaign before the June 8 election, as parents, relatives and friends of those missing desperately toured eight hospitals where the injured were taken, and announced their details on social media.
May, who was scheduled to hold another Cobra meeting after a visit to Manchester, said: “All acts of terrorism are cowardly attacks on innocent people, but this attack stands out for its appalling, sickening cowardice – deliberately targeting innocent, defenceless children and young people who should have been enjoying one of the most memorable nights of their lives”.
“We struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room packed with young children not as a scene to cherish but as an opportunity for carnage…There will be difficult days ahead”.
“This was among the worst terrorist incidents we have ever experienced in the United Kingdom. And, although it is not the first time Manchester has suffered in this way, it is the worst attack the city has experienced and the worst ever to hit the north of England”.
In London, Scotland Yard stepped up its presence in public places, as the GMP launched a major counter-terror operation in Manchester and beyond.
A shopping mall was evacuated briefly on Tuesday and a man was arrested, but the police it was not “currently connected” to Monday’s attack.
Prime Minister May, who leads the Conservative Party and her Labour counterpart Jeremy Corbyn were joined by leaders of other parties in a collective decision to suspend the ongoing election campaign.
They cancelled their scheduled engagements across the country, while BBC and other television channels cancelled their election-related programming, including debates between leaders.
After May announced the suspension of her party’s campaign, Corbyn said: “I have spoken with the prime minister and we have agreed that all national campaigning in the general election will be suspended until further notice.”
The Scottish National party was due to unveil its election manifesto on Tuesday, but it has now postponed the event. Instead, the SNP leader and Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon will chair a meeting of the local government’s resilience committee.
The Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron cancelled a scheduled visit to Gibraltar, where he was to speak about Brexit and meet overseas-based voters, and said: “This is a shocking and horrific attack targeting children and young people who were simply enjoying a concert”.
May had called the mid-term election to resolve Brexit-related political divisions inside and outside Westminster.
Latest opinion polls suggested that the gap between the favourite Conservatives and Labour was narrowing, but the former was still tipped to win another term in office.
The Liberal Democrats is the only major party to promise another referendum on Brexit before the United Kingdom formally leaves the European Union in mid-2019, if all phases are completed as scheduled by then.
Many other leaders and entertainers have cancelled events in a show of respect for the victims of the terror attack that left at least 22 dead and up to 60 injured.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative ally Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer called off a pre-election event at a beer tent in Munich.
The band Take That, formed in Manchester in 1990, was playing a show in Liverpool when the attack happened. It cancelled the following night’s show.