CHICAGO (CBS) — A former FBI agent said the deadly suicide bombing Monday night at a concert in England likely was carried out in response to President Donald Trump’s trip to the Middle East and his plea for Muslim nations to help combat terrorism.
“This was a coordinated and planned attack, and it was in all likelihood carried out in response to the president’s visit this weekend to Saudi Arabia, in which he made a very impassioned plea to Muslim world leaders to combat organized terrorism,” CBS 2 Security Consultant Ross Rice said.
At least 22 people were killed and 59 were wounded in a massive blast as a sell-out crowd was filing out of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Police said the bomber was not inside the arena when he set off an improvised explosive device, but had just arrived on a local rail system and was outside one of the main exits as the audience was leaving.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) issued a claim of responsibility for the attack in a brief, generic statement that didn’t identify the bomber and appeared to get some of the facts of the bombing wrong. ISIS claimed a “caliphate soldier managed to place a number of devices among a gathering of crusaders in Manchester, and detonated them.” Officials say there was only one explosion, and no other devices have been discovered at the arena.
Rice said the bombing has the markings of an ISIS attack, and he said it’s unlikely additional security at the arena would have stopped the attack, given the bomber was outside when he set off the bomb as people were leaving the concert.
“In so doing, he still had the opportunity to inflict mass casualties, which he did, but he was able to circumvent the security. They’re not going to search people that are outside a certain area or perimeter, which apparently is what he did,” Rice said.
Prime Minister Theresa May said the attacker had deliberately chosen “his time and place to cause maximum carnage” in the young crowd.
ISIS repeatedly has called for its supporters in the West to attack “soft targets” like sports events and concerts in any way possible. Attacks in Europe and the U.S. have been claimed by individuals who support ISIS and have made contact, but were not directly supported by the terror network.
U.S. intelligence sources told CBS News they were exercising caution on the early claim of responsibility from ISIS. Authorities are still looking into whether it was a killer who acted alone or who might have had some level of support from the terror network. U.S. intelligence officials were offering assistance in the investigation, as is standard practice in any case involving a close ally.
CBS News sources have confirmed that the attacker was identified as 22-year-old Salman Abedi, who was known to British authorities prior to the attack.
“Knowing the identity of the bomber is going to be immensely helpful in tracking back his activities, his contacts; and determining whether he acted alone, or he had assistance from other people, groups, or organizations – either inside or outside the country,” Rice said.
Manchester police confirmed the arrest of a 23-year-old man in the southern part of the city on Tuesday morning. They also said there was at least one controlled explosion carried out at the scene of a raid.
The suspect taken into custody on Tuesday was not identified, but police said the arrest was linked to the bombing. Witnesses said the man was smiling as he was apprehended.