MANCHESTER, United Kingdom – Britain on Saturday lowered the terror threat level which was hiked after this week’s carnage in Manchester as police released CCTV footage of bomber Salman Abedi on the night of the attack.
The move to scale back the threat level from critical to severe was announced by Prime Minister Theresa May who said there were now 11 suspects in custody over Monday night’s bombing targeting young fans at a pop concert.
Investigators gave details of Abedi’s last hours as they released photographs from security cameras showing the bespectacled suicide bomber in trainers, jeans, black sleeves, a black cap and a black puffer waistcoat, over which the straps of his backpack can be seen.
The 22-year-old, of Libyan origin, was born in the northwestern English city.
The police statement said one of the last places he went to was a “city centre flat and from there he left to make his way to the Manchester Arena”, where the attack took place.
“The flat is highly relevant as a location which we believe may be the final assembly place for the device.”
Two unarmed police officers remained on guard outside the entrance to Granby House, believed to contain the flat in question, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene.
“It is surprising, because these people are just under your nose and you don’t know it,” said Harpreet Lota, a Manchester resident walking past the building.
In their latest arrests over the attack, police detained two men, aged 20 and 22, in an early morning raid in north Manchester on Saturday.
Along with the 11 suspects in UK custody, police in Libya have detained Abedi’s father and brother.
A third of those killed in Monday’s bombing were children, and another 116 people were injured.
The attack, which has been claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, targeted concertgoers at the end of a show by US teen pop idol Ariana Grande.
British counter-terror chief Mark Rowley said Friday that police had captured “a large part of the network” linked to the bombing.
Troops back to barracks
Explaining the decision to reduce the terror threat level from critical – its highest level – to severe, May said troops would also be withdrawn from the streets, another measure adopted after the bombing.
“We should be clear about what this means: A threat level of severe means an attack is highly likely, the country should remain vigilant,” she said.
Operation Temperer, which involved the deployment of troops on patrol alongside police, will be wound down on Monday night, at the end of the bank holiday weekend.
“From midnight on Monday, there will be a well-planned and gradual withdrawal of members of the armed forces, who will return to normal duties,” she said.
May has seen her polling lead against Labour rival Jeremy Corbyn dwindle as campaigning restarted ahead of a June 8 general election, with her rival accusing her of overseeing a cut in police staff while she was interior minister.
Between 2009-2016, the number of police officers fell by almost 20,000, or around 14%, according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank.
May argues that the government has increased funding for security and intelligence agencies.
Authorities are currently handling 500 terror-related investigations into 3,000 individuals, with another 20,000 people on the radar posing a “residual risk”.
May attempted to hit back Saturday, announcing the new “Commission for Countering Extremism”, saying that “enough is enough – we need to be stronger and more resolute in standing up to these people”.
The commission will have a legal responsibility to identify extremism, and will advise the government about what policies and laws to enact in order to defeat extremists.
Tight security for FA Cup final
Armed police were on patrol as the country enjoyed a long holiday weekend with security boosted at Saturday’s FA Cup final at London’s Wembley Stadium, where Arsenal beat Chelsea.
And extra security measures were in place for Saturday evening’s gig by the Courteeners, an indie rock group, at Old Trafford cricket ground – where 50,000 music fans attended the city’s first major gig since the attack.
The bombing was the latest in a series of IS-claimed attacks in Europe that have coincided with a US-led offensive against the jihadist group in Syria and Iraq. — AFP