Latest updates are at the end of this post
UK police stopped sharing intelligence with their US counterparts on Thursday, May 25, after a series of leaks to the media about the investigation into a bombing at the Manchester Arena on May 22 that killed 22 people and injured more than 120 others.
The bomber, identified by police as 22-year-old Salman Abedi, also died in the explosion. Abedi was born in Manchester to parents who had emigrated from Libya.
Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said on Wednesday that investigators believe Abedi did not act alone. The Manchester Evening News reported that police believe the person who made the bomb is still at large.
Police have said they are confident they know the identity of all the victims, but forensic post-mortems are likely to take several days.
On Thursday, the National Health Service released updated casualty figures. 116 people were treated in hospital after the bombing, 75 were admitted and 23 are in critical care. NHS England stressed that critical care is not the same as critically ill.
UPDATE Intelligence sharing with US agencies will resume after fresh assurances given..
The UK’s national counter-terror policing lead, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, said: “While we do not usually comment on information sharing arrangements with international law enforcement organisations we want to emphasise that, having received fresh assurances, we are now working closely with our key partners around the world including all those in the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance.”
Earlier on Thursday, media reported that Greater Manchester Police had stopped passing information on the investigation to their US counterparts. Other UK-US intelligence sharing reportedly continues as normal.
The decision appears to have been taken by police. A spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May said: “This is an operational matter for police.”
On Wednesday, Home Secretary Amber Rudd criticised earlier leaks of UK information by US intelligence services, including the suspect’s name. She said authorities want to control information flow and described US leaks as irritating. Rudd said she told US officials that it must not happen again.
Several hours after Rudd’s criticism, NBC News reported that an unnamed US official said the bomber likely “had help” making a “big and sophisticated bomb,” that he had ties to al-Qaeda and had received terrorist training abroad and that he was identified by a bank card in his pocket.
Later, the New York Times published detailed images of what it said was the bomb. The images showed that Abedi had carried a metal box containing explosives, metal nuts and screws, probably inside a Karrimor rucksack. He detonated the bomb with his left hand. Shrapnel from the explosion penetrated metal doors and brick walls.
On Thursday, Congressman Mike McCaul, chair of the US House’s homeland security committee, said the explosive used in the bomb was TATP, which was also used in the November 2015 Paris attacks, the March 2016 Brussels attack, and in the July 2005 attacks on London. It can be manufactured from household chemicals.
A spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said that the leaks undermine the investigation, and the confidence of victims, witnesses and their families.
“This damage is even greater when it involves unauthorised disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major counter terrorism investigation,” the spokesperson added.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said he spoke to the US ambassador about US officials leaking details of the investigation.
Prime Minister Theresa May said she would “make clear to President Trump that intelligence that is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure” at the NATO summit in Sicily on Thursday.
Trump later released a statement on the suspected leaks to US media. “The alleged leaks coming out of government agencies are deeply troubling,” the statement said, adding “my Administration will get to the bottom of this. The leaks of sensitive information pose a grave threat to our national security.”
“I am asking the Department of Justice and other relevant agencies to launch a complete review of this matter, and if appropriate, the culprit should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
US attorney general Jeff Sessions released a statement on the leaks: “I share the president’s deep concern and talked to Home Secretary Rudd yesterday about this matter. These leaks cannot be tolerated and we will make every effort to put an end to it. We have already initiated appropriate steps to address these rampant leaks that undermine our national security.”
Eight in custody in the UK, two in Libya
On Thursday, a number of police operations were undertaken. Two men were arrested, one in the Withington area of Manchester on Thursday, and another at an undisclosed location.
Chief Constable Hopkins said “the arrests that we have made are significant, and initial searches of premises have revealed items that we believe are very important to the investigation.”
Police arrested five men and a woman on Wednesday. Police confirmed on Thursday that the woman was later released.
Abedi’s brother Ismail was arrested in Manchester on Tuesday, and his younger brother Hashem and his father Ramadan were arrested in Libya on Wednesday.
Terrorism threat level “Critical”, troops deployed
On Tuesday evening, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre raised the threat level to “Critical”, its highest level, which means JTAC believes a terrorist attack is imminent. The government deployed 984 soldiers to support police, and 1,000 additional police officers have been deployed across the UK.