22 people have been killed in a suspected terrorist attack during a pop concert by US star Ariana Grande in the northwest English city of Manchester on Monday night.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said the incident was being treated as a terrorist attack. If confirmed, it would be the deadliest militant assault in Britain since four British Muslims killed 52 people in suicide bombings on London’s transport system in July 2005.
Police responded to reports of an explosion shortly after 10:33 pm (21:33 GMT) at Manchester Arena, which has the capacity to hold 21,000 people, where the US singer had been performing to an audience that included many children.
A witness who attended the concert said she felt a huge blast as she was leaving the arena, followed by screaming and a rush by thousands of people trying to escape the building.
A video posted on Twitter showed fans, many of them young, screaming and running from the venue. Dozens of parents frantically searched for their children, posting photos and pleading for information on social media.
“We were making our way out and when we were right by the door there was a massive explosion and everybody was screaming,” concert-goer Catherine Macfarlane told Reuters.
“It was a huge explosion – you could feel it in your chest. It was chaotic. Everybody was running and screaming and just trying to get out.”
Ariana Grande, 23, later said on Twitter: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.” May, who faces an election in two-and-a-half weeks, said her thoughts were with the victims and their families. May and Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, agreed to suspend campaigning ahead of the June 8 election.
“We are working to establish the full details of what is being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack,” May said in a statement. “All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected.”
Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said police were treating the blast as a terrorist incident and were working with counter-terrorism police and intelligence agencies but gave no further details on their investigation.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but US officials drew parallels to the coordinated attacks in November 2015 by Islamist militants on the Bataclan concert hall and other sites in Paris, which claimed about 130 lives.
Two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said initial signs indicated that a suicide bomber was responsible for the blast.
“In the absence of conclusive evidence, the choice of venue, the timing and the mode of attack all suggest this was terrorism,” said a US counter terrorism official who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
Islamic State supporters took to social media to celebrate the blast and some encouraged similar attacks elsewhere.
Britain is on its second-highest alert level of “severe”, meaning an attack by militants is considered highly likely.
The US Department of Homeland Security was monitoring the situation in Manchester closely but said it had no information to indicate a specific credible threat involving music venues in the United States.