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Suicide Attack on Ariana Grande Concert Kills 22 in Manchester, U.K.
5.22.17 7:08 PM ET
Updated 2:30 a.m. EDT, May 23, 2017
LONDON—Twenty thousand concertgoers had crowded into the Manchester Arena to see Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman Tour on Monday night. Then the danger became a suicide bomber.
An explosion ripped into a crowd of concertgoers as they left Grande’s show in Manchester, England, killing at least 22 people and injuring 59, according to Chief Constable Ian Hopkins of the Greater Manchester Police. "I can confirm there are children among the deceased," he said, but declined to give further specifics.
Hopkins told the press on Tuesday morning that authorities believe one man was involved in the attack, that he used an improvised explosive device, and was killed at the scene. Whether he acted alone or is connected to a network is the focus of the investigation now.
"This was a barbaric attack deliberately targeting some of the most vulnerable in our society, young people, children out at a pop concert," said Home Secretary Amber Rudd. A meeting of COBRA, the British Government’s emergency response committee set up to respond to a national or regional crisis, has been scheduled for 9:00 a.m. London time.
The blast occurred in a public area at the entrance to the concert venue moments after Grande had finished her set with an encore performance of the tour’s eponymous anthem, “Dangerous Woman.”
This is the worst terrorist attack in Britain since July 7, 2005, when four suicide bombers blew themselves up on London public transport, killing 52 people. As yet, no claim of responsibility has been made.
A senior official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told The Daily Beast that U.S. officials were working off the understanding that there was a person who was trying to get into the concert area and that he was stopped by a security guard.
The crowd—many of whom were children and teenagers—scrambled to escape the arena after the attack, falling over each other and sustaining injuries in the panic as upward of 20 bodies lay prone, dead, or injured in the foyer.
One father, who was there to pick up his wife and daughter, described being blown off his feet by the force of the blast.
“We got thrown forward through the door towards the arena—the explosion was behind us forcing us forward,” Andy Holey told the BBC. “Everyone that was 10-15 feet behind us; every one of them got injured. There was about 20-30 people fatally injured.”
“I could hear the singer on her last song and then as it finished people were coming out, and then I just heard this loud bang, felt a lot of stuff near me ears and it threw me forward. When I got up and looked behind me there was just people lying everywhere so I just ran into the stadium to see if I could see my family, but couldn’t find them.”
After a frantic search inside the arena, where thousands of concert goers were fleeing the hall amid giant pink balloons, Holey raced back out to the box office area.
“I started checking people that were lying there... I don’t know if they was dead or unconscious but I had to check in case my family were there,” he said. “Just felt sick to my stomach, because every time I looked at a person—as bad as it was for that person—I was praying it weren’t me wife or daughter.”
Holey eventually found his family safe and well, and they have sought shelter at a nearby hotel, where dozens of people were still in the lobby well after midnight watching news of the atrocity as it filtered through on television screens.
The timing of the attack comes shortly before Britain’s upcoming general election, which will be held in just over two weeks. Prime Minister Theresa May has suspended her campaign as security agencies hunt down the attacker. “We are working to establish the full details of what is being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack,” May said.
While ISIS supporters celebrated the bloodshed on social media, the so-called Islamic State has not yet claimed responsibility for the attack. Unconfirmed reports on social media include claims of a now-suspended Twitter account that posted about the attack shortly before it occurred, and a video threatening Manchester posted to Telegram. The Daily Beast was unable to independently verify those reports. ISIS typically claims responsibility for attacks through messages communicated through its semi-official news channels and has not yet done so.
In the latest issue of the ISIS magazine Rumiyah, however, the terrorist group listed concert halls—along with nightclubs, movie theaters, shopping centers, and swimming pools—as possible targets.
“Generally any busy enclosed area, as such an environment allows for one to take control of the situation by rounding up the kuffar [unbelievers] present inside and allows one to massacre them while using the building as a natural defense against any responding force attempting to enter and bring the operation to a quick halt,” the magazine noted. It also advised targeting dark areas to further hamper first responders.
ISIS wrought havoc with similar tactics less than two years ago on the Bataclan concert hall, where 130 people were killed during an Eagles of Death Metal show in Paris. A statement in the aftermath from the so-called Islamic State hailed the attack, describing the scene at the Bataclan as a venue where “hundreds of apostates had gathered in a profligate prostitution party.”
Years earlier, in 2003, a pair of female suicide bombers attacked a concert outside Moscow, killing 14 people.
Mia Bloom, a Georgia State University professor and author of several books on terrorism, told The Daily Beast that jihadists have convinced themselves that teenagers out partying should be considered legitimate targets.
“There’s a reason rock concerts are so appealing: You get young people, you get people in a crowded space... And generally, you’re not going to get what they [jihadists] consider a to be a good, religious, Muslim girl. There’s a selection effect,” Bloom said, while noting that no terrorist group has claimed credit for the attack.
“Plus, concerts are symbolic of the licentiousness and degradation of the West. There’s a reason why the first time [extremists] move into an area, they ban music and dancing. It’s like that Footloose thing,” Bloom added.
Boston rapper BIA, one of the opening acts at the Manchester Arena, tweeted and then deleted a message that read “GUYS WE ARE OKAY!!” It was replaced with with words of mourning: “My heart is broken.”
Ariana Grande, who has since reportedly canceled two scheduled shows in the U.K. later this week, was not injured in the blast. In a statement released on Twitter, Grande said she felt “broken.”
Scooter Braun, Grande’s manager, issued a statement on social media echoing the singer’s sentiments.
“Tonight, our hearts are broken,” Braun said. “Words cannot express our sorry 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. We ask all of you to hold the victims, their families, and all those affected in your hearts and prayers.”
Concertgoer Hannah Dane told The Guardian there was “quite a loud explosion heard from inside the Manchester arena and it shook, then everyone screamed and tried to get out.”
Another witness, 26-year-old Suzy Mitchell, said a huge bang rocked the neighborhood, where she lives. Mitchell told the Press Association: “[I] just heard a huge bang from my bed, came out to the front of my apartments (we’re on the top floor so have perfect view) and everyone was running away in big crowds.”
“The bang was so big I heard it from my room which is at the back of the apartment blocks.”
One witness, Robert Tempkin, 22, told the BBC, “everyone was screaming and running, there were coats and people’s phones on the floor. People just dropped everything.”
“Some people were screaming they’d seen blood but other people were saying it was balloons busting or a speaker had been popped,” he said.
— with additional reporting by Noah Shachtman and Christopher Dickey
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