UK hunts for bomber’s network amid row over US leaks
MANCHESTER: Britain pressed a manhunt on Thursday for a Libya-linked militant network thought to be behind the deadly Manchester bombing as US President Donald Trump threatened to prosecute those responsible for leaking investigation details to the US media.
London reacted furiously after sensitive details about the investigation into Monday night’s suicide attack which targeted young concert goers, killing 22 people, appeared in the US press.
With the row over intelligence-sharing escalating, a shellshocked Britain held a minute of silence to remember the victims of the latest Islamic State-claimed atrocity to hit Europe.
As more children were named as victims of the massacre, Libyan authorities detained the bomber’s father and his brother while police in Britain carried out fresh arrests and raids.
After bowing their heads for the minute’s silence, the grieving crowd in Manchester’s St Ann’s Square broke into a spontaneous rendition of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by the city’s own Britpop band Oasis.
It was a message of defiance three days after Manchester-born Salman Abedi’s attack on young fans attending a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande.
“It’s like your own family just passed away, it’s just so, so sad,” 69-year-old Carmel McLaughlan told AFP, standing next to the sea of flowers filling the square.
As the nation mourned, Queen Elizabeth II visited children injured in the attack at a hospital in the northwestern city.
“It’s dreadful. Very wicked to target that sort of thing,” she told Evie Mills, 14, and her parents.
Three days after the attack, some 75 people are still being treated in hospital, including 23 in critical condition, medical officials said.
Twelve of the injured are under 16.
Wednesday night’s triumph by Manchester United at European football’s Europa League final brought some much-needed smiles to a city in pain.
The club dedicated the trophy to those killed, while manager Jose Mourinho said they would gladly exchange it if it could bring their lives back.
Leaks ‘deeply troubling’
As investigators pushed ahead with the probe into the attack, British authorities were left “furious” by repeated leaks of material shared with their US counterparts that they said undermined the investigation.
In Brussels for a NATO summit on Thursday, Prime Minister Theresa May confronted Trump over the issue.
“She expressed the view that the intelligence sharing relationship we have with the US is hugely important and valuable, but that the information that we share should be kept secure,” May’s spokesman said.
Trump, who led NATO allies in paying respects to the victims, slammed the alleged leaks as “deeply troubling” warning that those responsible could face prosecution.
“The alleged leaks coming out of government agencies are deeply troubling,” Trump said in a statement issued by the White House.
“If appropriate, the culprit should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Images obtained by The New York Times newspaper showed a detonator Abedi was said to have carried in his left hand, shrapnel including nuts and screws and the shredded remains of a blue backpack.
“We are furious. This is completely unacceptable,” a government ministry source said of the images.
Brothers in arms
University dropout Abedi, 22, grew up in a Libyan family that reportedly fled to Manchester to escape the now-fallen regime of Libyan dictator Muamer Qadhafi.
His father Ramadan and younger brother Hashem have been detained in Libya, with officials there saying the brother was aware of the planned attack.
They said both brothers belonged to the Islamic State group, while the father once belonged to a now-disbanded militant group with alleged ties to Al-Qaeda.
Libya said it was working closely with Britain to identify possible “terrorist networks” involved.
The bombing was the latest in a series of IS-claimed attacks in Europe that have coincided with an offensive on the militant group in Syria and Iraq by US, British and other Western forces.
Libyan officials said Abedi’s brother Hashem had been under surveillance for six weeks and said investigators had information he was planning “a terrorist attack” in Tripoli.
A relative told AFP that Abedi had travelled to Manchester from Libya four days before the bombing.
German police said Abedi made a brief stopover at Duesseldorf Airport, while a Turkish official said he had transited through Istanbul airport without saying where he was travelling from.
A source close to the family said Abedi wanted to avenge the murder in Manchester last year of a friend of Libyan descent, with his sister Jomana Abedi also telling the Wall Street Journal he was driven by a desire for revenge.
“I think he saw children — Muslim children — dying everywhere, and wanted revenge. He saw the explosives America drops on children in Syria, and he wanted revenge,” she said.
Eight in British custody
British officials said Abedi had been on the intelligence radar before the massacre.
Police announced two new arrests on Thursday, bringing the total to eight people in custody in Britain. A woman detained on Wednesday was released without charge.
Britain’s terror threat assessment has been hiked to “critical”, the highest level, meaning an attack is considered imminent.
Armed troops have also been sent to guard key sites, a rare sight in mainland Britain. British Transport Police also said they were deploying armed officers on trains for the first time ever.
The attack was the deadliest in Britain since 2005 when four suicide bombers attacked London’s transport system, killing 52 people.
The bombing occurred just over two weeks before a snap election set for June 8.