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Apparent suicide bomber at Ariana Grande concert kills 22

GREGORY KATZ AND JILL LAWLESS, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Armed police gather at Manchester Arena after reports of an explosion at the venue during an Ariana Grande gig in Manchester, England Monday, May 22, 2017. Police says there are "a number of fatalities" after reports of an explosion at an Ariana Grande concert in northern England. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

An apparent suicide bomber attacked an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, as it ended Monday night, killing 22 people among a panicked crowd of young concertgoers, some still wearing the star’s trademark kitten ears as they fled.

Teenage screams filled the arena just after the explosion, which also killed the attacker and injured dozens.

The attack sparked a nightlong search for loved ones – parents for the children they had accompanied or agreed to pick up, and friends for each other after groups were scattered by the blast. Twitter and Facebook were filled with appeals for the missing.

Public transport shut down, and taxis offered to give stranded people free rides home, while residents opened their homes to provide lodging.

The concert was attended by thousands of young music fans in northern England. The 23-year-old Grande, who was not injured, tweeted hours later: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.”

After Manchester, Grande was to perform at venues in Europe, including Belgium, Poland, Germany, Switzerland and France, with concerts in Latin America and Asia to follow. She has reportedly suspended her tour.

Forensic investigations are trying to determine if the attacker had accomplices, said Chief Const. Ian Hopkins. He provided no information about the person who set off the bomb. Hopkins said police are treating the blast as an act of terrorism “until we know otherwise.” The local ambulance service says 59 people were taken to hospitals.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who chaired a meeting of the government’s COBRA emergency committee on Tuesday, said the attack was an act of “appalling, sickening cowardice.”

May called the attack among the worst Britain has experienced. She said police and security staff believe they know identity of the attacker but won’t reveal it at this time.

Campaigning for Britain’s June 8 election has also been suspended.

The explosion struck around 10:30 p.m. Monday night as Grande was ending the concert, part of her Dangerous Woman Tour. Police cars, bomb-disposal units and 60 ambulances raced to the scene as the scale of the carnage became clear. More than 400 officers were deployed.

Manchester Arena said on its website that the blast struck outside the venue as people were leaving. Some eyewitnesses said it happened in the foyer.

“A huge bomb-like bang went off that hugely panicked everyone and we were all trying to flee the arena,” said 22-year-old concertgoer Majid Khan. “It was one bang and essentially everyone from the other side of the arena where the bang was heard from suddenly came running towards us as they were trying to exit.”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd decried “a barbaric attack, deliberately targeting some of the most vulnerable in our society – young people and children out at a pop concert.”

The city’s regional government and its mayor, Andy Burnham, were among scores of Twitter users who circulated the “MissinginManchester” hashtag, used by people looking for family members and friends.

Among the names being circulated was Olivia Campbell. Her mother, Charlotte Campbell, said the 15-year-old attended the concert with her best friend from school. He is hospitalized but Olivia is missing, the mother told ITV television’s Good Morning Britain breakfast show.

“I’ve called the hospitals. I’ve called all the places, the hotels where people said that children have been taken and I’ve called the police.”

She said she last heard from her daughter just before the concert.

“If anyone sees Olivia, lend her your phone, she knows my number.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Supporters of ISIL, which holds territory in Iraq’s Mosul and around its de facto capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa, celebrated the blast online. One wrote: “May they taste what the weak people in Mosul and (Raqqa) experience from their being bombed and burned,” according to the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group.

If the explosion is confirmed as a terrorist attack it would be the deadliest in Britain since four suicide bombers killed 52 London commuters on three subway trains and a bus in July 2005.

Video from inside the arena showed people screaming as they made their way out amid a sea of pink balloons.

Pop concerts and nightclubs have been a terrorism target before. Most of the 89 dead in the November 2015 attacks in Paris were at the Bataclan concert hall, which gunman struck during a performance by Eagles of Death Metal.

In Turkey, 39 people died when a gunman attacked New Year’s revelers at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul.

Manchester, 260 kilometres northwest of London, was hit by a huge Irish Republican Army bomb in 1996 that levelled a swath of the city centre. More than 200 people were injured, though no one was killed.

The Associated Press’ Leanne Italie, Mesfin Fekadu, Lori Hinnant and John Leiceister contributed to this story.

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