MANCHESTER: Bomb squads and repeated police raids have rattled Manchester residents, who find themselves caught up in a fast-moving terrorism investigation to find those behind Monday’s suicide bomb attack.
As a bomb disposal van drove out of their neighbourhood, residents in the city’s southern Moss Side area were dumbfounded that a terror probe had come thundering into their streets.
“Everyone’s just worried aren’t they, everyone, no matter where they are… it’s scary stuff,” said David Bailey, 29, who manages a property one street away from where the bomb squad was brought in.
He said such drama was never expected “on your doorstep”.
A vast cordon was put in place by police on Saturday morning as they evacuated local residents, while others were told to stay in their homes while the operation continued.
“I saw someone coming out like a policeman with a small cage, I think they put the cat in,” said resident Nicholas Turner, 20, who saw the evacuation under way and was told by police to return home.
Turner works at the Manchester Arena but was not on shift when 22 people were killed on Monday evening in a suicide bomb attack.
“I was obviously a bit concerned on the night… But thankfully I didn’t know anyone that was hurt or injured or killed,” he told AFP.
Despite an outward show of defiance and unity, with thousands of people attending vigils, Manchester’s residents remain anxious as police rush to round up the network behind bomber Salman Abedi.
“It’s a shock that they were next door to us,” said Aisha Rafiq on Friday, as police searched a Moss Side barbershop next door to the pharmacy where she works.
“They never gave us any problems.”
The latest arrests were of two men, aged 20 and 22, in north Manchester early on Saturday after police gained entry to an address using a controlled explosive.
Race going ahead
Armed police officers patrolling the streets of central Manchester are a further reminder of the ongoing terror probe as preparations get underway for running races in the city on Sunday.
David Hart, communications director of the Great Run company, said many people had been asking how to take part despite some runners choosing not to attend.
“I can genuinely say we’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by the reaction. We have had literally thousands of messages from people supporting the decision to go ahead and saying they’ll be there,” he told AFP in Albert Square, where thousands of people attended a vigil on Tuesday.
“It’s up to the individual and we do understand that there will be some people who don’t feel able to take part. And we respect that… But the general message has been, people want to be a part of it,” Hart said.
The bombing and extra security measures have not deterred runner Andrew Parry, visiting the Great Run information stand in Albert Square.
“If it’s going ahead, I think we’ll be alright,” he told AFP, remembering the “fantastic” atmosphere of previous races.
“I think it’ll be better tomorrow because of what happened.”
Anxious but determined
In nearby St Ann’s Square, crowds quietly take in the thousands of flowers laid in memory of the attack victims.
While the atmosphere is calm, a reminder of the tension comes as a woman reassures children that a bang heard is only a balloon popping.
“I’m not being dictated to by anybody,” said Zita Weston, 44, as she queued to lay flowers. “It does fearmonger people though, it makes you a little bit anxious I suppose, but it doesn’t stop you from coming in,” she added.
Weston works at a business which looks out onto the foyer where Abedi detonated the bomb. Her 13-year-old daughter, also in the square, said her friends attended the concert on Monday night and escaped unhurt.
Paulina Mendola, 29, paused from celebrating a friend’s upcoming nuptials to visit the square. “We’re a community, we need to stick together,” she told AFP.
The group had travelled from Burnley, a town north of Manchester, for the hen party and were determined to continue life as normal despite the city’s security jitters.
“Everyone’s come,” said Mendola. “We’re not just going to let them win.”