(Update: Press reports say ISIS is claiming responsibility for the attack. British Prime Minister Theresa May said authorities know the identity of the man who detonated an explosive device, but they are not yet releasing his name. Manchester-area police have announced the arrests of a man and a woman in connection with the attack.)
(CNSNews.com) – Police in Manchester, England confirmed Tuesday that they believe a deadly blast at a music concert venue on Monday night was a terrorist attack carried out by a suicide bomber who died at the scene, killing at least 22 people.
“We have been treating this as a terrorist incident and we believe, at this stage, the attack last night was conducted by one man,” said Greater Manchester police chief constable Ian Hopkins.
“The priority is to establish whether he was acting alone or as part of a network.”
Hopkins said the attacker was believed to have been “carrying an improvised explosive device, which he detonated, causing this atrocity.”
“We would ask people not to speculate on his details or to share names. There is a complex and wide-ranging investigation under way,” he said. “Our priority is to work with the national counter terrorist policing network and U.K. intelligence services to establish more details about the individual who carried out this attack.”
Supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) were celebrating online overnight following news of the attack, terrorism analysts reported.
Although there was no official claim of responsibility in the hours after the blast at the city's Manchester Arena, attempts were clearly being made on social media networks to associate ISIS with it.
Along with the fatalities, 59 people were injured when an explosion occurred at the end of a concert by U.S. singer Ariana Grande, whose fans are typically teen and pre-teen girls.
U.S.-based analyst Michael S. Smith II drew attention to an evidently hastily-produced video clip, posted onto an ISIS-linked channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, in which a heavily masked man seeks to link ISIS to the Manchester attack.
“This is only the beginning. The lions of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham are beginning to attack all the crusaders. Allahu akhbar!” says the man, who then holds up a piece of card with the word “Manchester” and Monday’s date scrawled on it.
On Twitter, Smith also posted screenshots of messages on ISIS-linked Telegram channels celebrating the Manchester attack.
Rita Katz, director of the private intelligence group SITE, also reported on pro-ISIS forum users celebrating the attack, described as a “successful and surprising blow” to Britain, and framed as retaliation for British airstrikes against ISIS.
Since late 2014, Britain’s Royal Air Force has carried out more than 1,200 airstrikes against terrorist targets in Iraq and Syria, more than any other member of the anti-ISIS coalition apart from the United States. Britain has more than 1,250 military personnel deployed in the region supporting local forces in the campaign.
Monday night’s terrorist attack was the deadliest on British soil since four al-Qaeda suicide bombers killed 52 people on trains and a bus in London on July 7, 2005.
Britons go to the polls in just over a fortnight’s time in an snap election called by Prime Minister Theresa May in a bid to strengthen her hand in negotiations for leaving the European Union. May’s Conservatives suspended campaigning in the wake of the attack and other parties were expected to do so too.
In the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security said it was closely monitoring the situation in Manchester, and was “working with our foreign counterparts to obtain additional information about the cause of the reported explosion as well as the extent of injuries and fatalities.”
It advised U.S. citizens in the area to maintain security awareness.
“At this time, we have no information to indicate a specific credible threat involving music venues in the United States,” the department said. “However, the public may experience increased security in and around public places and events as officials take additional precautions.”
In a message to her 45.6 million Twitter followers early on Tuesday morning, Ariana Grande said she was “broken” by what had happened, adding “from the bottom of my heart, i am so sorry. i don’t have words.”
The singer’s manager, Scooter Braun, said in a statement, “Words cannot express our sorrow for the victims and families harmed in this senseless attack. We mourn the lives of children and loved ones taken by this cowardly act.”
“We are thankful for the selfless service tonight of Manchester’s first responders who rushed towards danger to help save lives,” said Braun. “We ask all of you to hold the victims, their families and all those affected in your hearts and prayers.”
As reaction came in from around the world, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told parliament in Canberra that the attack was “especially vile, especially criminal, especially horrific because it appears to have been deliberately directed at teenagers.”
“This is an attack on innocence,” he said. “Surely there is no crime more reprehensible than the murder of children. This is a direct and brutal attack on young people everywhere, on freedom everywhere.”