By Griff Witte, Peter Holley ·
c) 2017, The Washington Post · May 23, 2017 -
LONDON - An explosion described by police as a likely terrorist attack ripped through a crowd of teenagers and other concertgoers late Monday after a performance by an American pop singer in the English city of Manchester, leaving at least 19 people dead and about 50 injured.
Initial evidence at the scene suggested the attack may have been a suicide bombing, according to two U.S. security officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. British authorities, who were meeting in emergency sessions in Manchester and London, did not immediately confirm those reports.
The bombing appeared intended to inflict the maximum possible damage on young concertgoers - many of them in their early teens - who were making their way out of the Manchester Arena. Police said the blast occurred about 10:30 p.m., minutes after pop star Ariana Grande had finished her set.
The explosion set off a panicked reaction as fans struggled to flee and parents and teens searched for each other amid the carnage. Well into Tuesday morning, fathers and mothers who had lost contact with their children posted desperate pleas for information on social media.
British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a statement in the early hours of Tuesday saying that authorities were “working to establish the full details of what is being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack.”
Greater Manchester Police said the blast was being “treated as a terrorist incident until police know otherwise.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, and police did not speculate about possible motives.
If confirmed as a terrorist attack, it would be the worst strike on British soil since 2005, when Islamist extremists bombed the London subway and a bus, killing 54 people.
Britain has been on high alert for a major attack for several years, with authorities saying that a mass-casualty attack was likely.
Manchester police said they were working closely with national authorities to determine the cause of the explosion. Among the priorities for investigators will be to figure out whether it was part of a broader plot.
Grande, who is wildly popular both in Britain and the United States, was not injured in the attack. She expressed her sorrow in a tweet hours after the explosion, saying she was “broken. from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry. I don’t have words.”
Cellphone video showed chaotic scenes of people screaming and running in the aftermath of the blast. The arena was packed with attendees and pink balloons that had fallen from the ceiling during the final song. Initially, concertgoers said they thought popping balloons had set off a panic, or that the screams were those of fans who had caught a glimpse of Grande.
The local hospital, Wythenshawe, said it was dealing with “mass casualties.”
Five other hospitals across the city were activated to treat the injured, and emergency supplies of blood were rushed in.
Heavily armed police and emergency services swarmed the arena, with ambulances - their blue lights flashing - rushing to the scene. The local emergency-response service advised the public to call only “for life-threatening emergencies.”
Many of those attending the concert were teenagers going to their first concert. Witnesses reported that outside the arena, parents were frantically attempting to locate their children. Many parents and teens later gathered at a nearby Holiday Inn that was established as a meeting point.
Parents posted pictures of missing children on social media, pleading for information. Police set up a hotline for those looking to connect with missing relatives.