UK terror threat from critical to severe

May 30, 2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May has reduced the UK terror threat from critical to severe following raids and arrests in the northern city of Manchester. It had been raised after Monday’s suicide bombing.

The bank holiday weekend began with unprecedented levels of security across the UK. The threat level was changed to one that indicates an attack is highly likely, instead of imminent, after a bomb disposal squad evacuated residents from their homes in the Moss Side area of Manchester.

Speaking after a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee, Mrs May said the decision had been taken after “a significant amount of police activity” over the past 24 hours.

She urged the country to “remain vigilant”, however, saying “a threat level of severe means an attack is highly likely”.

The police raid in Moss Side took place shortly after 6.30am on a terraced house in Boscombe Street on the border of the southern Manchester district, residents said.

By Saturday lunchtime, houses on either side of the property were still evacuated and a police cordon sectioning off the street was moving periodically.

Earlier on Saturday morning, police conducted a controlled explosion to gain entry to a house in the Cheetham Hill area of the city.

Mark Rowley, Britain’s top counterterrorism police officer, said authorities had now dismantled a “large part” of the network around bomber Salman Abedi. He added there were still “gaps in our understanding” of the plot, as investigators probed Abedi’s potential links to jihadis in Britain, Europe, Libya and the Middle East.

Among those evacuated from Boscombe Street was Vandana, a secretary who did not give her surname. Her husband, a taxi driver, and their children, a girl of nine and boy of four, were woken up by a bang on Saturday morning, which was the noise of the police demolishing the door of number 33 Boscombe Street across the road. They looked out.

“They took two men out in handcuffs and put them in the van,” she said.

“We were evacuated at about nine o’clock. We went to the park because we had nowhere to go.” She said she and her husband had seen young men staying at number 33. “We thought these young guys might be at university,” she said. They used to say hello to her husband in the street.

Ian Hopkins, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said: “We have made significant progress in this fast moving and complex investigation, working with the national counter terrorism policing network and UK intelligence partners and securing the arrests of 11 people who remain in custody,” said.

Security services had feared that a terror cell with the ability to make bombs was still posing a threat. The attack on the Manchester Arena also showed a greater level of sophistication than recent incidents in Britain.

About 1,000 additional police officers have been deployed to guard weekend events, including the FA Cup final, following the attack at the pop concert that killed 22 people in the northern English city, including children and teenagers.

The Metropolitan Police had announced on Friday evening “a complete review of the plans for over 1,300 events across the country”.

In London, firearms officers with the British Transport Police boarded trains for the first time last week.

Troops will be gradually withdrawn from the streets from Monday onwards, Theresa May said on Saturday.

Shortly after Mrs May lowered the terror threat from critical to severe, police officers evacuated the Old Vic theatre near Waterloo in London and cordoned off roads around the building. An officer told the Financial Times that while a suspicious package had been found in the theatre, no one was hurt.

Luis Vardaro, an accountant from Buenos Aires in Argentina who was staying at a Hilton hotel near the theatre, said that while he had been unsettled by the events in Manchester, he had not thought he would see armed police and cordons in London. “I thought, OK, but London will be normal. Actually I have been here three times before,” he said. “This is very scary. It is completely different.”

The massacre at the Manchester Arena carried out by Abedi was the worst terrorist atrocity to hit Britain since the July 7 attacks in London in 2005.

Investigations have concentrated on the city’s large Libyan community, some of whom returned to the country to fight in the 2011 uprising.

The Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, travelled back from Libya shortly before the attack.

As intense police activity into the Manchester bombing continued over the weekend, local people in areas where inquiries have focused began reflecting on the longer term implications.

Liam Arrowsmith, a 25 year old hospital porter and father of two, said his family had been woken up at 2am a few nights ago by the noise of a controlled explosion carried out by police in an adjacent street. “Me and my partner were thinking about moving but where to?” he said. “You could move to somewhere you think is safe and it can happen.”

His children are aged six and four. “I told them both it was fireworks, but then they watched the television and asked questions.”

At the end of Boscombe Street, Farrah Khalid was watching the police activity with her four children. She said: “We are scared now.” She added that as Muslims they felt very sorry about what had happened and said: “My children were born here. This is our city. Our home place is here.”

Of the bomber and potential accomplices, she said: “I think they have no religion. In Islam this kind of thing is not allowed.”

Behind the police cordon, the entrance to number 33 Boscombe Street was open but guarded constantly by several police officers. Periodically, forensic officers wearing mauve rubber gloves appeared at the doorway.