- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
An explosion immediately after an Ariana Grande concert Monday evening in Manchester, England killed as many as 19 and injured over 50.
U.K. authorities suspect it was caused by a suicide bomber and announced they will treat the incident as a terrorist attack until authorities collected more information. U.S. officials also said they suspect a terrorist attack, and told NBC News President Donald Trump had been briefed on the incident.
Latest statement on incident at Manchester Arena pic.twitter.com/BEpLOan3dY
— G M Police (@gmpolice) May 23, 2017
The BBC reported the U.K.’s senior counter-terrorism officials are assembling in London to respond to the incident. The government put the country on the second-highest alert level, “severe,” possibly indicating perpetrators of the attack are still at large.
“We are working to establish the full details of what is being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement released Monday night. “All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected,” she said.
The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, also issued condolences:
My heart goes out to families who have lost loved ones, my admiration to our brave emergency services. A terrible night for our great city
— Mayor Andy Burnham (@MayorofGM) May 23, 2017
Police at the scene are still clearing the area, a scene of chaos and carnage according to eyewitness accounts.
“There was a loud bang at the end of the concert. The lights were already on so we knew it wasn’t part of the show. At first we thought it was a bomb. There was a lot of smoke. People started running out. When we got outside the arena there were dozens of police vans and quite a few ambulances,” Erin McDougle told The Guardian.
U.K. officials also told the BBC there was another suspected explosive device in the vicinity of the first explosion. They carried out a controlled explosion of the device after clearing the area.
Eyewitnesses captured the aftermath on their phones, showing chaotic footage of people screaming and running from the scene.
EXPLOSION AT MANCHESTER ARENA AND EVERYONE RAN OUT SO SCARY😭 pic.twitter.com/pJbUBoELtE
— ♡♡ (@hannawwh) May 22, 2017
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 23, 2017
The explosion occurred at the Manchester Arena, which has a capacity of 21,000 people. Many of the concert-goers were children and teens. Local hotels offered shelter for youth separated from their parents, and social media was plastered with desperate requests for information on children who went missing in the chaos.
The attack will rock domestic and international politics. The U.K. is facing a general election June 8, and border security was a huge issue during last year’s referendum on leaving the European Union. A terrorist attack would almost certainly push security concerns front and center in the election, elbowing aside the economic, Brexit-related questions that have dominated public debate. Theresa May had said that the United Kingdom was safer inside Europe when she was home secretary, before becoming prime minister.
Trump, who campaigned on a tough stance against Islamist terrorism, is in Israel in the midst of his first foreign trip. Over the weekend, in Saudi Arabia, the president exhorted Muslim leaders to do more to fight extremism.
The White House hasn’t yet issued a response to the incident, nor has Trump tweeted.
The United Kingdom is no stranger to terrorist attacks, suffering decades of violence at the hands of the Irish Republican Army and its offshoots, as well as from Islamist militants. In 2005, an al Qaeda subway and bus bombing killed 52. In March of this year, an Islamic State attack outside of Westminster left five dead and 50 injured.
This post will be updated as more information comes in.
Photo credit: Dave Thompson/Getty Images