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UK probes ‘network’ of alleged Manchester attackers

Jill Lawless,
Associated Press

Manchester, England — Security forces rounded up more suspects Wednesday in the deadly Manchester concert blast and soldiers fanned out across the country to national landmarks as an on-edge Britain tried to thwart the possibility of additional attacks.

Officials scoured the background of the British-born ethnic Libyan identified as the bomber, saying he was likely part of a wider terrorist network. Additional arrests were made both in Britain and in Libya in the bombing that killed 22 people and wounded scores more.

Among those taken into custody in Libya were the suspected bomber’s father and his younger brother, the latter of whom confessed to knowing “all the details” of the attack plot, Libyan anti-terror authorities said.

“I think it’s very clear this is a network we are investigating,” Chief Constable Ian Hopkins of the Manchester Police said as authorities raided British properties thought to be connected to Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old suspected bomber who grew up in Manchester and died in the attack.

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said Abedi “likely” did not act alone in the strike at the close of an Ariana Grande concert Monday night and that he had been known to security forces “up to a point.” Meanwhile, officials probed possible travel by the alleged bomber, looking for clues to new threats.

Government officials said nearly 1,000 soldiers were deployed to Buckingham Palace, Parliament and other high-profile sites across the country. Britain’s terror threat level was raised to “critical” — the highest level — on Tuesday over concern another attack could be imminent.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Abedi was believed to have traveled to Syria and had “proven” links to the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for the attack. British officials, however, have not commented on whether Abedi had links to IS or other extremist groups.

British authorities were probing whether Abedi had ties to other cells across Europe and North Africa, according to two officials familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation.

They said one thread of the inquiry involved pursuing whether Abedi was part of a larger terror cell that included Mohamed Abrini, otherwise known as “the man in the hat,” with connections to the Brussels and Paris attacks. Abrini visited Manchester in 2015.

“It looks like we’re not dealing with a lone wolf situation. There’s a network — a cell of ISIS-inspired terrorists,” said U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He said the bomb’s construction suggested a “level of sophistication” that might indicate foreign training.

Six additional arrests were made in Britain on Wednesday as the sprawling investigation extended to Libya, where Abedi’s father and 18-year-old brother were detained in Tripoli.