MANCHESTER (UNITED KINGDOM) (AFP) – Britain’s politicians resume campaigning in earnest on Friday with national security thrust into the spotlight as police scramble to bust a Libya-linked jihadist network thought to be behind the Manchester terror attack.
Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had suspended campaigning after Monday’s suicide bombing at a Manchester pop concert, which killed 22 people, including many teenagers, and wounded dozens more.
Eight suspects are currently in detention on UK soil in connection with the blast, for which the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility, while police in Libya have detained the father and brother of 22-year-old suicide bomber Salman Abedi.
Police said a man was arrested in the Moss Side area of Manchester in the early hours of Friday and another man held earlier was released without charge.
Washington’s top diplomat Rex Tillerson is due to visit London later on Friday in an expression of solidarity, after Britain reacted furiously to leaks of sensitive details about the investigation to US media.
US President Donald Trump threatened to prosecute those responsible for the “deeply troubling” security breach, which has strained the close relationship between Washington and London.
At a summit of NATO allies in Brussels on Thursday, May confronted Trump over the issue, saying shared intelligence “should be kept secure”.
– ‘Critical’ threat –
Monday’s bombing at a concert by teen pop idol Ariana Grande was the latest in a series of IS-claimed attacks in Europe that have coincided with an offensive on the jihadist group in Syria and Iraq by US, British and other Western forces.
Britain’s terror threat assessment has been hiked to “critical”, the highest level, meaning an attack is considered imminent.
Troops have also been sent to guard sensitive sites, an unusual sight in mainland Britain, while armed police are now patrolling the country’s trains for the first time.
The issue of security, which was not widely discussed in the election campaign before the attack, is now expected to feature highly.
At the launch of the UK Independence Party’s manifesto on Thursday, deputy leader Suzanne Evans said May, a former interior minister, “must bear some responsibility” for the terror attack in Manchester this week due to policing budget cuts.
Opposition leader Corbyn in a speech in London later on Friday is also expected to say it is the “responsibility” of governments to minimise the risk of terror by giving police the funding they need.
Corbyn, a veteran peace campaigner, is also set to link British foreign policy to domestic terrorism, saying that Labour would “change the way we do things abroad” if it wins power.
“Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home,” Corbyn will say.
A YouGov poll published in Friday’s edition of The Times put the Conservatives on 43 percent compared to Labour on 38 percent, far better for Labour than the double-digit margin that had previously separated it from the ruling party.
However, the poll also suggested that 41 percent of respondents believe the Conservatives would handle defence and security best, compared to 18 percent who said the same of Labour.
YouGov polled 2,052 people on Wednesday and Thursday.
– Hunting accomplices –
At the G7 summit in Sicily on Friday, May will emphasise the importance of tackling the spread of terror online by urging internet companies to do more to remove extremist content.
The premier’s visit to Italy has been cut short following the attack in Britain, where police are continuing their manhunt for the bomber’s accomplices.
Manchester-born Abedi, a university dropout, grew up in a Libyan family that reportedly fled to the northwestern English city to escape the now-fallen regime of Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Libyan officials said he and his brother Hashem belonged to the Islamic State group, while their father Ramadan once belonged to a now-disbanded militant group with alleged ties to Al-Qaeda.
Libya said it was working closely with Britain to identify possible “terrorist networks” involved, while a British official said that Abedi had been on the intelligence radar before the massacre.
– Manchester defiant –
On Friday evening, a defiant Manchester is set to go ahead with hosting an athletics contest, the Great City Games, in which the likes of former world 100 metres champion Kim Collins are due to compete amid robust security.
Following a minute’s silence in the city’s St Ann’s Square on Thursday, crowds broke into a spontaneous rendition of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by the city’s own Britpop band Oasis.
Some 75 people were still being treated in hospital, including 23 in critical condition, medical officials said.
Twelve of those injured were under 16, and the youngest killed was an eight-year-old girl.