MANCHESTER, England (AP) — British security forces raided a building Wednesday in central Manchester as they investigated “a network” of people allegedly behind the city’s concert bombing. Hundreds of soldiers were sent to secure key sites across the country, including Buckingham Palace and the British Parliament at Westminster.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the bomber, Salman Abedi, “likely” did not act alone when he killed 22 people and wounded nearly 120 at an Ariana Grande concert Monday night in Manchester. She said he had been known to security forces “up to a point.” Abedi, a 22-year-old British citizen born to Libyan parents, died in the attack.
“I think it’s very clear this is a network we are investigating,” Manchester Police chief constable Ian Hopkins said, confirming that an off-duty police officer was among those killed in the attack.
Many at the concert were young girls and teens enthralled by Grande’s pop power — and those who died included an 8-year-old girl.
Officials are examining Abedi’s trips to Libya as they piece together his allegiances and try to foil any new potential threats. The government said nearly 1,000 soldiers were deployed instead of police Wednesday in high-profile sites in London and elsewhere.
Britain raised its threat level from terrorism to “critical” late Tuesday amid concerns that Abedi may have accomplices who are planning another attack. Abedi grew up in Manchester’s southern suburbs and once attended Salford University there.
Police said three suspects were arrested Wednesday around Manchester, and Abedi’s father told The Associated Press that Abedi’s brother Ismail was arrested Tuesday in the area.
Heavily armed police raided an apartment building in Manchester on Wednesday afternoon, blasting the door open with a controlled explosion. The building, Granby House, is popular with students and young professionals. Neighbor Adam Prince said raided flat had been used as an Airbnb.
Muye Li, a 23-year-old student who lives on the same floor as the raided apartment, said he thought officers were looking for a woman because they “asked me if I had seen the lady next door.”
Across London, troops fanned out and authorities reconsidered security plans.
The Palace of Westminster, which houses the British Parliament in London, was also closed Wednesday to all those without passes, and tours and events there were cancelled until further notice. Armed police also patrolled outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, another popular tourist spot.
“(The goal) is to make our city as hostile an environment as possible for terrorists to plan and operate,” said London Police Commander Jane Connors.
The Chelsea soccer team also announced it would cancel Sunday’s victory parade in London that was to have celebrated the team’s Premier League title win.
“We are sure our fans will understand this decision,” the team said, adding that the parade would have diverted police from the bombing investigation.
Speaking Wednesday from the Libyan city of Tripoli, the father of the alleged Manchester attacker denied that his son was linked to militants or to the deadly bombing. Ramadan Abedi told the AP that when he spoke to his son Abedi five days ago, he sounded “normal.”
He said Salman was getting ready to visit Saudi Arabia for a short Umrah pilgrimage, then planned to head to Libya to spend the Islamic holy month of Ramadan with his family.
“We don’t believe in killing innocents. This is not us,” the elder Abedi told the AP by telephone.
He said his son last visited Libya a month-and-a-half ago.
The senior Abedi fled Tripoli in 1993 after Moammar Gadhafi’s security authorities issued an arrest warrant for him and eventually sought political asylum in Britain. Now he is a manager for the Central Security force in Tripoli.
Former Libyan security official Abdel-Basit Haroun told the AP that the elder Abedi was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting group in the 1990s, which had links to al-Qaida.
Although the LIFG disbanded, Haroun says the father belongs to the Salafi Jihadi movement, the most extreme sect of Salafism and from which al-Qaida and the Islamic State group both hail.
Early Wednesday, Manchester police arrested a man at a house just a 10-minute walk from Abedi’s home.
Omar Alfa Khuri, who lives across the street, said he was awakened at 2:30 a.m. by a loud noise and saw police take away the father of the family that lives there in handcuffs. He said the man, in his 40s, is named Adel and has a wife and several children.
“They arrested the father, and I think the rest of the family kind of disappeared,” Khuri said, adding that he knew the man from the neighborhood and the mosque. “In the last 15 years, I haven’t seen him in trouble at all. I haven’t seen police come to his house.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May chaired a meeting Wednesday of her emergency security cabinet group to talk about intelligence reports on Abedi and concerns he might have had outside support. Officials are probing how often Abedi had traveled to Libya.
France’s interior minister said Abedi is believed to have also traveled to Syria and had “proven” links with the Islamic State group.
Rudd said Britain’s increased official threat level will remain at “critical” as the investigation proceeds and won’t be lowered until security services are convinced there is no active plot in place.
She also complained about U.S. officials leaking sensitive information about Abedi to the press, saying that could take “the element of surprise” away from Britain’s security services and police.
“I have been very clear with our friends that that should not happen again,” she said.
Officials said all the dead and wounded had been identified. But Greater Manchester Police said it could not formally name the victims until forensic post-mortems were concluded, which will take four to five days. It said all the affected families have been contacted and are receiving support.
[Featured Image: (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)]