Terror threat raised to 'critical' after Manchester attack, warns Theresa May

Theresa May has announced that the official terror threat level is being raised to critical, the highest level, in the wake of the Manchester attack.

Police officers outside the Palace of Westminster (PA)

Twenty-two people were killed and dozens injured at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester on Monday night.

The man suspected of carrying out the attack has been identified as 22-year-old Salman Abedi, who was born in Manchester to Libyan parents.

It is the worst terror attack on British soil since the 7/7 bombings in 2005.

Georgina Callander, pictured two years ago with Ariana Grande, and , right, eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos

The decision to raise the terror threat level means military personnel could be deployed to guard concert venues and sports stadiums.

Soldiers will replace armed police at many sites, freeing them up for patrols in key areas under Operation Temperer, which is being enacted after security experts warned the government that another terrorist attack could be imminent.

Mrs May said the operation had been authorised by Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon at the request of the police after experts at the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) raised the threat level from ‘severe’ to ‘critical’ — the highest level.

“The change in the threat level means that there will be additional resources and support made available to the police as they work to keep us all safe,” Mrs May said.

“As a result of the JTAC’s decision, the police have asked for authorisation from the Secretary of State for Defence to deploy a number of armed military personnel in support of their armed officers.”

What does a ‘critical’ threat mean?

That authorities believe an attack may be “imminent”.

Is this an unusual step?

Yes, though not unprecedented. It is the first time the assessment has been placed at the highest level in a decade. It has only been at critical twice in nearly 11 years, in August 2006 and June 2007. On both occasions, the assessment was lowered after a few days.

At what level had it been prior to this announcement?

Severe — the second highest — which indicates an attack was deemed to be “highly likely”.

How long had the threat level been at ‘severe’ before this change?

Nearly three years. It was raised from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’ in August 2014 after the rise of Islamic State.

How has the threat changed over the years?

The level was first made public in 2006. Since then, it has most often been at ‘severe’ — and it has not been lower than ‘substantial’ (an attack is a strong possibility).

How many levels are there?

Five. The other two levels are ‘moderate’ (an attack is possible but not likely), and ‘low’ (an attack is unlikely).

Police response

Earlier, Greater Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said detectives were working to establish whether Abedi was working alone.

He said: “I can confirm that the man suspected of carrying out last night’s atrocity has been named as 22-year-old Salman Abedi. The priority remains to establish whether he was acting alone or as part of a network.”

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the claim has yet to be verified.

Who is Salman Abedi?

Elsmore Road, where Abedi was registered as living, became the centre of the investigation into Monday’s outrage, as detectives hunted those thought to be behind the blast.

According to The Telegraph, Abedi is the second youngest of four children.

His parents were Libyan refugees who are thought to have come to the UK during the Gaddafi regime.

The paper also reports that two of Abedi’s three siblings are Hashem, who is 20, and Jomama, 18.

Abedi reportedly grew up in the Whalley Range area, where police could be seen on Tuesday.

In June 2014, twin sisters Salma and Zahra Halane, also from the Whalley Range area, fled to join the so-called Islamic State. The two schoolgirls reportedly married jihadist fighters.

Residents who live on the red-bricked semi-detached street said they know little about the person or persons who reside at the address associated with Abedi.

A childhood friend of Abedi’s older brother, Ismail, said the family is known to the Libyan community in the city.

“Ismail’s brother was kind of like a normal guy. I’ve never chilled with his brother. I know his name is Salman and I say ‘hi’ to him and talk to him. He was always friendly, nothing to suggest (he was violent). He was normal, to be honest.”

According to the man (who asked that his name not be printed), Ismail teaches Arabic classes at a mosque in the area, which his father was also said to visit.

According to officials at the mosque, Salman Abedi “probably” attended the Manchester Islamic Centre, which is also known as the Didsbury Mosque.

Fawaz Haffar, a businessman and trustee at the mosque, said he did not know the suspected bomber and could not recall ever seeing him there.

Pictures revealed the scale of chaos and carnage inside the arena

Read more: Video shows moment of explosion

But Mr Haffar added that Abedi “probably” did attend the mosque, given his father used to perform the azan (the call for prayer before 1,000 of the faithful), and his brother was a volunteer there until recently.

He said: “He probably did. I have never seen him. I don’t know him. As a trustee, I can only say what I have seen. Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s not.”

Mr Haffar stressed the mosque was what he called a “moderate, modern, liberal mosque,” and he is a member of an organisation liaising with police, the Independent Advisory Group.

Vigil interrupted

The man is detained by police (PA)

On Tuesday evening, a candle-lit vigil in Birmingham in memory of those killed was cut short after a man believed to be armed was detained nearby.

The man shouted out as he was handcuffed and led away by officers with West Midlands Police, just a short distance from where 1,000 people had gathered in the city’s main Victoria Square.

Speakers who had been paying tribute to the Manchester victims were interrupted by the man’s loud protests.

As he was taken away in a riot van in Edmund Street, which runs behind Birmingham’s council house, a police sergeant could be seen carrying away what appeared to be a bat and hatchet.

The victims

A young girl and a college student were among the first to be named.

Eight-year-old Saffie Roussos was described by the headteacher at her school in Preston as a “beautiful little girl”.

Georgina Callender, 18, pictured with Ariana Grande two years ago.

Another victim was identified as Georgina Callander, who was studying health and social care at Runshaw College in Leyland, Lancashire.

Earlier, Mrs May condemned the “appalling sickening cowardice” of the lone suicide bomber who detonated a homemade device in the foyer of the Manchester Arena as thousands of young people were leaving the venue.

Declaring that police and security services would be given whatever resources were needed to track down any accomplices of the attacker, Mrs May vowed: “The terrorists will never win. And our values, our country and our way of life will always prevail.”

Images from inside the Manchester Arena showed concert-goers fleeing in terror

In a statement, Greater Manchester Police said: “With regards to the ongoing investigation into last night’s horrific attack at the Manchester Arena, we can confirm we have arrested a man in South Manchester.”

The working theory is that the perpetrator who triggered the blast, ultimately killing 22 people and injuring at least 59 others, was working alone.

However, the national police counter-terror network, assisted by MI5, are urgently piecing together his background to see whether he had any help in planning the attack.

Police are trying to determine whether the terrorist was working alone (PA)
The attacker struck after an Ariana Grande concert (PA)

They will be looking to build a picture of the attacker’s movements — both in recent weeks, as well as months immediately before the attack.

Read more about the Manchester terror attack:

Video shows moment concert-goers flee in terror

Eyewitness accounts: ‘There was carnage’

First victim names as Georgina Callander

Mum breaks down during desperate appeal to find daughter

People in Manchester open their homes to help those affected

Sick Isis supporters celebrate bombing