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British Police Say Manchester Bomber Was Part Of A Larger Network


British police continue making arrests in their investigation of Monday night's suicide bombing in Manchester. Two more people picked up today for a total of eight, all in connection with the blast of a concert that killed 22 people. NPR's Frank Langfitt joins us from Manchester once again. Hi, Frank.


INSKEEP: So eight people in custody - that suggests - what? - some kind of a network here?

LANGFITT: Yeah, exactly. What they said yesterday, the Manchester Police, is they're investigating a terror network. And to make this very clear to the listeners, basically what they're talking about is a terrorist cell operating in Manchester, which the police clearly didn't know about. And they're trying - they're playing catch up. They're trying to find people now and figure out what actually went on and obviously make sure there isn't another bomb out there. They're raided an Airbnb yesterday, blew the door off there. But it's very hard for the public here to make sense of this. There are no names, no charges, no narrative that the police are giving. The public is largely in the dark. And that seems to be the style of British police in contrast to, say, the American police in these cases where they provide a lot of information.

INSKEEP: Regular updates on the investigation.

LANGFITT: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: This leads to so many follow ups, Frank. One of the myths - you said a terror cell appears to be operating in Manchester. Does it reach beyond Manchester to other parts of the world?

LANGFITT: Well, we don't know. There's a lot of people looking into that right now. The most recent events from - we got yesterday is actually out of Libya. Remember, the bomber, his family is originally from Libya. His name is Salman Abedi, and Libya's RADA, it's a counterterrorism force, they actually arrested the bomber's father, whose name is Ramadan. And they claim in a statement that they interrogated the bomber's brother, Hashem (ph). They say that he has confessed to being connected to ISIS. They say this in the statement. That said, we should take this all with a big, big - a lot of salt because there's no sign that the British have been involved in this, and interrogation in the region often will involve torture. So we should be very suspicious of what we're hearing out of Libya.

INSKEEP: You get a lot of unreliable information according to studies. Now, let me follow up on another thing. You said that police did not know about this terror cell in Manchester, but they knew about the bomber, Salman Abedi, who he was. Any sense of why they weren't able to stop it?

LANGFITT: They did, and this is - this is going to be an issue, I think. When I was in the neighborhood a couple of days ago, people didn't know much about the bomber, but they knew police had been by to actually look into claims of radicalization. So police had actually been to the house. We're also seeing in some of the British press today that other people, Islamic figures, are saying we warned the government about this. The government has a program called Prevent, which is designed to prevent exactly this thing, radicalization of young people who then might act on it. We're in the middle of a general election campaign. Theresa May, the prime minister, is seen as very tough on terrorism. And so far, this is not an event that has hurt her. It has played to her strength. But there probably will be more and more questions in the days to come about what MI5, the domestic intelligence agency, knew and what it did to try to stop this.

INSKEEP: One more follow-up question, Frank - you mentioned that British police have said almost nothing about this attack and that's a kind of cultural difference between law enforcement there and law enforcement here. It sounds like - that cultural differences lead to a difference over intelligence sharing because Americans have leaked some information about this attack.

LANGFITT: They have. In fact, right now, if you're reading the British papers, you're paying attention to media, you're learning more from leaks coming, the British government claims, from the Americans. For instance, just last night, The New York Times showed photos of some of the bomb fragments, and it showed that this was a carefully crafted bomb. There appears to have been a circuit board on the detonator; also saw that there were - screws and bolts were used as shrapnel. And this suggested that the bomber did not work on his own.

INSKEEP: How do British authorities feel about the fact that Americans allegedly are leaking this stuff?

LANGFITT: Really, really, really mad about this because this is not their style, and they're trying to investigate. And it's thought that Theresa May will see Donald Trump later today at NATO and will raise this with him. So it's definitely a big issue between the agencies. Also, remember, they do have a close history of working together, so they'll probably be able to get over this but right now pretty tense.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks very much as always.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

INSKEEP: That is NPR's Frank Langfitt with the latest on the investigation of the Manchester bombing.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, a Manchester resident identified an apartment that was raided as an Airbnb. Airbnb says the apartment was for rent but not through the company.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: May 26, 2017 at 12:00 AM EDT
In this report, a Manchester resident identified an apartment that was raided as an Airbnb. Airbnb says the apartment was for rent but not through the company.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.