The investigation into a suicide blast that killed at least 22 people at a Manchester pop concert widened Thursday, with security services carrying out raids and rounding up suspects amid fears that the bombmaker who devised the bolt-spewing source of the carnage remains at large.
Police used controlled explosives to carry out a raid in the early hours of Thursday while also arresting two male suspects in Manchester. The arrests brought to eight the number of people in British custody who are suspected of involvement in the attack.
While the nation observed a one-minute silence at the stroke of 11 a.m. to honor those who died in the attack, a bomb disposal unit was called to the southwest of Manchester to investigate a suspicious package. The police later said that the area had been “deemed safe.”
Meanwhile, a German security official told The Washington Post that the bomber, 22-year-old Salman Abedi, had been in Düsseldorf just four days before the bombing. The development signaled an expansion of an investigation that already has stretched to North Africa and continental Europe.
Authorities were investigating whether Abedi had possible contacts with extremists in Germany, including during a 2015 visit to Frankfurt, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Abedi was en route back to Britain from Istanbul when he stopped off in Düsseldorf.
The German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel first reported the bomber’s presence in Germany. The paper, which cited unidentified security sources, said Abedi, flew from Düsseldorf to Manchester last Thursday.
The disclosure was just the latest among a series of leaks in the foreign media that have outraged British investigators. British authorities have been particularly incensed by reports originating with U.S. officials. On Thursday, the BBC reported that British officials have decided to stop sharing information about the Manchester investigation with their American counterparts.
In a televised address on Thursday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said the threat level would remain “critical,” the highest state of alert. She also said she would “make clear” to President Trump when they meet later in Brussels that “intelligence that is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure.”
Greater Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said in a statement that leaks published by the New York Times, including pictures of the attack scene, have “caused much distress for families that are already suffering terribly with their loss.”
British police chiefs also released a statement criticizing the disclosures, and Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham lodged a complaint with the acting U.S. ambassador in London, calling the leaks “completely unacceptable.”
The controversy came amid an investigation into the broader network around Abedi that appeared to be rapidly gaining pace.
On Wednesday, the arrests stretched from the normally quiet lanes of a northern English town to the bustling streets of Tripoli, where Libyan officials said they had disrupted a planned attack by the bomber’s brother.
But even amid the crackdown, British authorities acknowledged that they remain vulnerable to a follow-up attack.
The sight of soldiers deploying at London landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street underscored the gravity of a threat that was known in general terms before Monday night’s explosion but has come sharply into focus in the 48 hours since.
The morning after the attack, police said they believed that Abedi, a British citizen, had carried it out alone and had died in the blast he triggered.
But in their statements Wednesday, authorities expressed growing confidence that Abedi – who had recently returned from a trip to Libya and may have also traveled to Syria – was only one part of a web of plotters behind Britain’s worst terrorist attack in more than a decade.
“It’s very clear that this is a network we are investigating,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said police were moving quickly to disrupt the group, carrying out raids across the city and arresting four people, including Abedi’s older brother, Ismail. A fifth suspect was later apprehended carrying “a suspicious package” in the town of Wigan, about 20 miles west of Manchester.
On Wednesday evening, authorities arrested a female suspect in Manchester and a man in the English Midlands town of Nuneaton.
A raid by balaclava-wearing police at an apartment in central Manchester spawned speculation that authorities may have uncovered the location where the bomb was built, although that appeared to have been unfounded.
Monday’s explosion claimed victims as young as 8 and targeted fans of U.S. pop star Ariana Grande, who was performing at Manchester Arena.
In conflict-scarred Libya, counterterrorism authorities with a militia that is aligned with the U.N.-backed government said they had arrested at least two additional members of Abedi’s family, including a younger brother suspected of preparing an attack in Tripoli.
Ahmed Dagdoug, a spokesman for Libya’s Reda Force militia, said Hashem Abedi was arrested late Tuesday and is suspected of “planning to stage an attack in Tripoli.”
Dagdoug said Hashem Abedi had confessed to helping his brother prepare the Manchester attack. “Hashem has the same ideology as his brother,” Dagdoug said.
Abedi’s father, Ramadan, was arrested Wednesday, although it was not clear on what grounds. Ramadan Abedi had earlier asserted that his sons were innocent, telling the Associated Press that “we don’t believe in killing innocents. This is not us.”
He said Salman sounded “normal” when they last spoke five days ago. The elder Abedi said his son had planned to visit Saudi Arabia and then spend the Islamic holy month of Ramadan with family in Libya.
Dagdoug described Hashem Abedi as an operative of the Islamic State, which has asserted responsibility for Monday’s blast.
Hashem Abedi was friends on social media for several years with a brother of known Manchester extremist and Islamic State recruiter Raphael Hostey.
Hostey is believed to have died last year while fighting for the militant group. The connection suggests that the Abedi brothers’ social circle included at least one family member of another known radical in Manchester.
Internal Islamic State documents, categorized by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, show that Hostey claimed to have lived at the same Manchester address as his brother, only several hundred yards away from where the Abedi family also lived for years.
It was unclear whether investigators believed that Abedi’s relatives were a key part of the network planning the Manchester attack. But authorities were increasingly exploring the emerging connections between Britain and Libya.
Abedi, whose parents had emigrated from Libya to escape the rule of Moammar Gadhafi, was on the radar of British security services before Monday’s attack.
But Home Secretary Amber Rudd, the nation’s top domestic security official, suggested that he was not a major focus of any inquiries, telling the BBC that authorities had been aware of him only “to a point.”
Rudd said that Abedi had recently returned from Libya and that that was a focus of the investigators’ inquiry.
Abedi was reported on Wednesday to have been a college dropout who had recently become radicalized. Security experts said it was unlikely that he coordinated the attack, and the BBC reported that he may have been “a mule” tasked with carrying out the bombing but had little role in creating the explosive or choosing the target.
Of particular concern to British investigators was the possibility that the bombmaker was still at large and may be planning to strike again.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Griff Witte, Karla Adam, Souad Mekhennet