Four days after UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Tuesday the nation’s terror threat level was raised to the highest possible, “Critical” level in response to the Manchester suicide bombing which killed 22 people, and resulted in British troops being deployed on the streets of London for the first time in a decade, on Saturday Theresa May said Britain had lowered its security threat level to “severe” following a number of arrests and significant activity by police investigating the suicide bomb attack. As a result the British soldiers who were deployed earlier in the week to assist police, would be withdrawn from Britain’s streets from midnight on Monday.
Earlier in the day, police hunting the terrorist network behind the suspected suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, said they had made two further arrests overnight as they closed in on other possible cell members. May said this meant that the independent body which sets the threat level had decided it should be lowered from its highest rating “critical”, which means an attack could be imminent, to “severe”. As a result, the UK’s threat assessment has now been returned to the level it was at prior to the Manchester attack, with no imminent attacks expected, although as May also added an attack is still “highly likely”.
“A significant amount of police activity has taken place over the last 24 hours and there are now 11 suspects in custody,” May said. “The public should be clear about what this means. A threat level of severe means an attack is highly likely. The country should remain vigilant.”
— Darren McCaffrey (@DMcCaffreySKY) May 27, 2017
Elsewhere, Reuters reports, that UK police officers said they had used a controlled explosion to gain entry to an address in the north of the city where two men were detained on Saturday. Some hours later, police cordoned off a large area in the Moss Side area of south Manchester and houses were evacuated with a bomb disposal unit sent to the scene. A man working in a local shop, who declined to be named, told Reuters he saw three men being taken away from the address.
“As part of an ongoing search at a property in Moss Side an evacuation is currently being carried in the area,” police said in a statement.
On Friday, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer said police were confident that they had made “immense” progress and had apprehended a “large part of the network”. However, extra armed officers will be on duty across the country with security stepped up at some 1,300 events over the long holiday weekend.
The scope of the response to the Manchester attack has been dramatic, with the Times newspaper reporting on Saturday that intelligence officers had identified 23,000 jihahist extremists living in Britain. Earlier this week a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters the security services were managing 500 active operations involving some 3,000 people who were thought to pose a threat.
A concern for the UK, and perhaps explaining the reduction of the threat level, is that over the weekend there are a number of high-profile events including soccer cup finals in London and Glasgow, and the Great Manchester Run. However, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the UK police chief for counter-terrorism, advised people to be vigilant but to “go out as you planned and enjoy yourselves”.
Meanwhile, the traditional blowback to these kinds of events has emerged, with Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable saying there had been a rise in reported hate crimes, from an average of 28 to 56 incidents on Wednesday even as the police and politicians praised communities in Manchester for their reaction to the bombing. “We can’t directly link these to the events of Monday night and are continuing to monitor the situation,” he said.
Also on Friday, political campaigning for the June 8 national election which was suspended after the Manchester attack resumed with the bombing becoming a central feature. The opposition Labour Party, emboldened by a rise in opinion polls, argued that Britain’s foreign policy had increased the risk of attacks and criticized Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May for cutting spending on policing. May said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was saying Britain was to blame for the bombing.
“I want to make one thing very clear to Jeremy Corbyn and to you, and it is that there can never, ever be an excuse for terrorism,” she said at the G-7 meeting in Sicily. A recent poll on Thursday put May’s Conservatives five points ahead of Labour suggesting a far tighter race than previously anticipated, sending the British pound tumbling..