The security services believe they know the identity of the man behind the Manchester suicide bombing, Theresa May has said. Speaking outside Downing Street after chairing a meeting of the Government’s emergency COBRA committee, the Prime Minister said the city had fallen victim to a “callous terrorist attack”. She said the blast at Manchester Arena, which left 22 people dead1, was “among the worst terrorism we have experienced in the United Kingdom”. :: Live updates: Manchester attack2
The target was a pop concert, the audience was a mixture of teenagers, many of them young girls, all out for a fun and innocent evening . Some were young enough to need chaperoning by parents or grandparents. If this does turn out to be an Islamist-inspired attack, the attacker has deliberately targeted everything his warped beliefs hate in a Western society. He has also demonstrated a deadly competence – he blew himself up as the high-spirited crowd streamed out of the arena after the concert .
The timing, and location of the explosion – just outside the main arena itself – suggests planning and shows he probably carried out a recce. The singer Ariana Grande is world-famous . She has more than 45 million followers on Twitter . Another basic but twisted way of guaranteeing this attack will resonate far. The morning after the attack, a number of things will be happening simultaneously and with urgency. In Manchester, counterterrorism police from North West Command will be carrying out forensic work at the scene of the explosion. They will try and find bomb-making signatures that might give a clue as to who was behind this attack.
They will look for certain chemicals, such as triacetone triperoxide (TATP). TATP has been used by terrorists around the world, it is a favoured compound of Islamic State and it is relatively straightforward to make, but it is extremely unstable and lethal. It has been confirmed that the attacker died on the scene – this tells us that something is left of his body. That will be important in identifying him, either facially, through fingerprints, dental records or DNA . Once they know who he is, databases will be scoured . Was he known to the security services ? Does he have known associates?
His home will be searched . So too the homes of any close relatives or friends. People might be detained, questioned and then released . Computers will be taken away and their contents and internet history studied. GCHQ will be looking for a digital trail and if necessary MI6 will speak to foreign partners to build a picture of who this man was and who he knew. Was he acting alone, a so-called lone-wolf (unlikely with this nature of attack), did he have supporters helping him in the UK, was he being remotely ‘directed’ by a centralised body (for example IS leadership in Raqqa)? These are all questions which will have been asked by the Prime Minister as she chaired the COBRA meeting.
The most pressing questions of all though – was this part of a network and should the UK prepare for a secondary attack? COBRA (the dramatic acronym for the mundane Cabinet Office Briefing Room) is attended by key members of Government, including the home and defence secretaries, the heads of the UK’s intelligence agencies and other relevant figures. The Foreign Secretary is in Brussels so wouldn’t have been there in person but could have dialled in, if necessary. The decision to raise the national threat level is one for JTAC – the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre. It sits inside MI5’s headquarters on the banks of the River Thames, and acts independent from government although with input from government officials. The threat level is currently set at “severe”, one from the top . It means an attack is highly likely.
If JTAC assesses that another attack is under way or imminent, it will raise that level to the highest – “critical”. The security services have been warning that London isn’t the only target of terrorists wishing to attack the UK. Many smaller cities might be less prepared for an incident like this, but not Manchester. MI5 has a regional base in Bury, just on the outer edges of the city. The police armed response unit is highly trained and on the scene within minutes of the attack. Now and in the coming days, armed police will patrol Manchester city centre, partly for reassurance, partly for increased security. And then there are 22 families, the morning after, at home, mourning the death of loved ones.
“The death of these children will remain with us forever,” a member of the city council told Sky News.
It is understood a police2 officer is now responsible for driving the SNP3 leader to events in an unmarked police car . Until now, the First Minister’s security has been minimal and she has been driven around by government civilian drivers.
The hate speech, based on hundreds of tweets, included threats of violence and sexualised insults.
One troll wrote: A f**king hate Nicola Sturgeon, wish someone would shoot the daft jock b*****d .
Another Twitter user wrote: Nicola Sturgeon needs a kick up the c**t .
Sturgeon and her Ministers have until now been ferried about by pool drivers in the Government7 Car Service, but this newspaper has learned that security around the First Minister has been stepped up.
A police officer now takes the lead on driving duties and a second officer sometimes accompanies her on visits.
Stuart Crawford, a former military officer who is a security and defence consultant, said: Every public figure, whether political or not, is at risk to a certain extent . It is a case of trying to make an informed judgement of how great that risk is.
You can walk down the Royal Mile and meet MSPs and Ministers, and engage with them.
But you have always got the nutter scenario – the John Lennon scenario .
So it seems to be sensible for her to have that police driver and escort, so long as it doesn t divorce her from the public.”
He added: People who might be on the receiving end of some sort of physical threat have just got to be wise to it.
His government driver doubled up as a body guard and a police officer was later drafted in to act as a personal security adviser.
John Buchan was based in the former First Minister’s private office as a “security liaison officer and was tasked with scoping out potential threats.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: We do not comment on the First Minister s security arrangements.
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Cyclists are being given to get their bikes security-marked and they will be able to get advice on cybercrime, as well as home and shed security at a pop-up shop in Chesterfield. The Chesterfield Town Centre Safer Neighbourhood Policing Team will be hosting the event between 10am and 2pm, on Thursday, April 27, in the Vicar Lane Shopping Centre. They will be setting up in Unit 4, off Steeplegate – formerly Vision Express – and residents and shoppers will be invited to drop in and speak to officers to find out how they can reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime. People can also bring their bicycles along for officers to security mark. The event has been set up as part of a series of pop-up crime prevention shops in Chesterfield town centre. PCSO Hayley Grundy of the Chesterfield Town Centre Safer Neighbourhood Policing Team said: Our last event in March was really popular, so we re delighted to offer residents and shoppers the chance to call in and see us again. We ll be offering advice on a wide range of crime prevention issues, from online cyber safety to home, vehicle or shed security.
You can also come along and speak about any concerns or issues with a local officer and cyclists can bring their bikes for security marking ready for the warmer, lighter months.
For more information, or to speak to a member of the Chesterfield Town Centre Safer Neighbourhood Policing Team call 101, or send them a message through the website www.derbyshire.police.uk.
People can also follow the team and their work on Twitter: @ChesterfieldSNT.