The Manchester suicide bomber who killed 22 people at a concert venue packed with children had recently returned from Libya, a British minister said, and her French counterpart said he had links with Islamic State and had probably visited Syria too.
Interior minister Amber Rudd said Salman Abedi had likely not acted alone, and troops were being deployed to key sites across Britain to help prevent further attacks after the official threat level was raised to “critical”.
Police made three new arrests in South Manchester on Wednesday in connection with the concert bombing. They provided no details on the individuals arrested.
Rudd said up to 3,800 soldiers could be deployed on Britain’s streets, taking on guard duties at places like Buckingham Palace and Downing Street to free up police to focus on patrols and investigation. An initial deployment of 984 had been ordered, initially in London, then elsewhere.
Rudd also scolded US officials for leaking details about the investigation into the Manchester attack before British authorities were prepared to go public.
British-born Abedi, 22, blew himself up on Monday night at the Manchester Arena indoor venue at the end of a concert by US pop singer Ariana Grande, attended by thousands of children and teenagers.
His 22 victims included an eight-year-old girl, several teenage girls, a 28-year-old man and a Polish couple who had come to collect their daughters.
The bombing also left 64 people wounded, of whom 20 were receiving critical care for highly traumatic injuries to major organs and to limbs, a health official said.
Unlikely Abedi acted alone
“It seems likely, possible, that he (Abedi) wasn’t doing this on his own,” Rudd said on BBC radio. She said Abedi had been known to security services before the bombing.
Asked about reports that Abedi had recently returned from Libya, Rudd said she believed that had now been confirmed.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said British investigators had told French authorities Abedi had probably travelled to Syria as well.
“Today we only know what British investigators have told us - someone of British nationality, of Libyan origin, who suddenly after a trip to Libya, then probably to Syria, becomes radicalized and decides to carry out this attack,” Collomb told BFMTV.
Asked if he believed Abedi had the support of a network, Collomb said: “That is not known yet, but perhaps. In any case, (he had) links with Daesh (Islamic State) that are proven.”
ISIS, now being driven from territories in Syria and Iraq by Western-backed armed forces, claimed responsibility for the Manchester attack, but there were contradictions in its accounts of the action and a lack of crucial detail.
Prime Minister Theresa May chaired a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency response committee at her Downing Street office on Wednesday morning.
Britain has a national election coming up on June 8 but all campaigning has been suspended since the bombing. Coverage of the attack and its aftermath has pushed out political news from the British media.