Armed police at the scene during a vigil in Albert Square, Manchester, England, Tuesday May 23, 2017, the day after the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande concert that left 22 people dead
TORONTO — The suspected suicide bomber who struck at a Manchester pop concert packed with teens was described by members of the city’s Libyan community Tuesday as “withdrawn” and “devout.”
Police identified the suspect as Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old born in Manchester to parents who had fled to the United Kingdom to escape the regime of late Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
“However he has not yet been formally named by the coroner and I wouldn’t wish to therefore comment any further about him at this stage,” said Chief Constable Ian Hopkins of the Greater Manchester Police.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant did not name the attacker but described him as a “soldier of the Khalifah,” the term it often uses for terrorists inspired by the group’s violent ideology.
Calling the victims “crusaders” and depicting the target as a “shameless concert arena,” ISIL said the killings were “revenge for Allah’s religion” and a response to “transgressions against the lands of the Muslims.”
Police were trying to determine whether the attacker, who killed 22 and injured 59, had worked alone or was part of a network. A 23-year-old was arrested and police searched Abedi’s south Manchester home.
He was such a quiet boy, always very respectful towards me. He is such an unlikely person to have done this
“Neighbours recalled an abrasive, tall, skinny young man who was little known in the neighbourhood, and often seen in traditional Islamic clothing,” reported the Manchester Evening News.
Abedi’s identification was found at the scene of the attack, which was about 5-kilometres from his home, The New York Times reported. Neighbours told reporters a flag — possibly Libyan or Palestinian — was sometimes flown outside the house.
“He was such a quiet boy, always very respectful towards me,” the Guardian quoted a member of Manchester’s Libyan community as saying. “He is such an unlikely person to have done this.”
Friends and neighbors told the Financial Times the family was “very religious” and said Abedi had “turned to radical Islam” after being involved in gangs. Most of the family had returned to Tripoli in December, leaving behind Abedi and his brother, a former bakery employee, the newspaper reported.
Armed police stand guard 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
The little known at this point “seems to fit into a pattern that has been seen in a number of places,” said Richard Fadden, who was the National Security Advisor to prime ministers Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau.
“A second generation immigrant, often from a Muslim country, who cannot reconcile his new life and that of his family with their lives in their country of origin and is somehow driven to violence,” he said.
“It also points, I believe, to the necessity for Canada and other Western countries to be concerned about — and do more about — the effective integration of newcomers,” said Fadden, who also served as director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Witnesses Describe Deadly UK Post-Concert Blast 1:45
Alex Wilner, an assistant professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, also said Abedi’s profile was consistent with the “larger trends” emerging among radicalized Western citizens.
“Like many ISIS adherents, he’s a young man, born and raised in Europe to immigrant or refugee parents. We’ve seen a lot of that in recent months and years in attacks from Belgium to France, and from Germany to Russia,” he said.
“There’s obviously also a process of radicalization going on. We’ll find out more as the investigation continues, but it would be surprising if he hadn’t had some level of interaction, in person or online, with other radicals and terrorists.”
Following a series of attacks involving firearms, knives and vehicles driven into crowds, the suicide bombing was a reminder that improvised explosive devices remain a preferred weapon for terrorists intent on causing mass casualties.
While attacks in Canada in 2014, 2016 and 2017 made use of rifles, a car and knives, a suicide bombing was prevented last August when police in Ontario killed ISIL supporter Aaron Driver as he was leaving his home to conduct an attack.
“A suicide bomb is kind of a gold standard in terrorism, common across the globe and especially in the conflict zones of Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. Thousands occur each year,” Wilner said.
Knowing that bombs are relatively hard to build, ISIL has been encouraging other types of attacks. “And yet, for those able and willing, a suicide bombing provides a huge amount of terror and mayhem, precisely as we’ve seen in Manchester.”
The targeting of a concert by pop star Arana Grande may have been a deliberate attempt to kill children, Amarnath Amarasingam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, wrote on Twitter.
But he said it was also possible those who chose the venue knew nothing about Grande or her audience and attacked the concert because of the potential for high casualties. “Difficult to know which is true for now.”