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Mass terrorism returns to mainland Britain

Editorial Staff

The full details have yet to be uncovered but police are certain of one thing: the bomb that was triggered by a suicide attacker in the lobby of the Manchester Arena late last night is being classified as terrorism. Who, what and why remains to be seen but the fact that a second device, apparently intended to cause harm to those escaping from the first and/or emergency services arriving on the scene are indicative of long-established terrorism tactics.

The attack has all the hallmarks of a well-thought out terrorist plot. There are few targets softer than where many people, in a happy state, are leaving a concert of similar event chatting to their friends. The drama of change from that to horror and fear is an enormous boost to the concept of terrorism. Singer and dancer Ariana Grande attracts nice people, although some people have accused her, as they have so many, of being excessively provocative. Many of the comments to this YouTube video demonstrate this criticism.

There are not many current candidates for large-scale terrorism in the UK. There are, in population terms, a handful of radicals purporting to represent Islam despite the fact that UK Muslim leaders almost universally reject the affiliation of such people with their religion. However, those that have become radicalised, either by travel, internet or the small number of persuasive agents of, e.g. Da'esh / ISIS, in the UK, are very difficult to identify. It is possible that this concert was targeted by those who have strong views as to the place of women.

It is very unlikely that an attack of this nature would have been carried out by the rump of Northern Irish terrorists and in the UK, right wing, even the far right, have shown no indication of becoming involved in acts of this nature. There is a further point: the attack was calculated to kill and maim many people directly - but also, because of the nature of the venue, to cause additional casualties as people tried to get away in panic. It is highly likely that there was a secondary plan for stampede-related casualties.

Although authorities say that they have found and identified the body of the bomber, no information has been released. This is usual in the UK as a widespread investigative net will now be spread around his contacts and family and his life gradually subjected to deep and penetrating analysis.

The two-bomb technique was a common feature of Northern Ireland terrorism in the UK and it is known that, at that time, the IRA travelled to Yemen which was then a place where many middle eastern groups held training camps. Those are now more likely to be in Syria and it is not widely thought that the IRA continues to provide technical assistance to those groups.

The timing of the event might be relevant: it was the fourth anniversary of the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby who was sadistically killed by two men who plainly were intending that their actions be filmed by CCTV and, even, passers by. It is certain that the Manchester attack was not an act of opportunity and that considerable planning would have been required to put in place all the necessary logistics. Witnesses have also said that the bomb, in addition to explosive, was packed with materials designed to act as shrapnel to cause additional injury. Although the attacker used a home made device, the precise nature of it is not known. However, from the size of the blast, there was clearly a high-explosive involved which suggests that, while he acted alone in the final event, he had a support network and, probably, a bomb-maker who manufactured and fitted the device.

It is this that is now likely to be the focus of the investigation: across the world, great resources are put into identifying and neutralising the bomb-makers and, in a number of countries, a semi-official kill order is widely assumed. In the UK, such orders are highly resisted and there is often an outcry if it is suspected that such an order has resulted in the death of a suspect. This time, when it was the young of a major city out for a relaxing evening that have been targeted, there might be rather less objection.