Theresa May has revealed police believe they know the identity of the Manchester arena bomber, in a statement outside Downing Street after chairing an emergency Cobra meeting, condemning the “sickening cowardice” of the perpetrator.
“All acts of terrorism are cowardly attacks on innocent people but this attacks stands out for its appalling sickening cowardice, deliberately targeting innocent, defenceless children and young people who should have been enjoying one of the most memorable nights of their lives,” the prime minister said.
May, who will travel to Manchester later on Tuesday, said the city had “fallen victim to a callous terror attack, which targeted some of the youngest people in our society with cold calculation”.
The prime minister confirmed 22 people were killed and 59 injured in the attack at 10.30pm after the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester arena. The Cobra meeting began at 9am in Downing Street and met for nearly two hours, chaired by May and attended by cabinet ministers including the home secretary, Amber Rudd, the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, and the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, joined the meeting via video-link from Manchester and will meet May later on Tuesday alongside the Greater Manchester police chief, Ian Hopkins.
“This was among the worst terrorist incidents we have ever experienced in the UK and although it is not the first time Manchester has suffered in this way, it is the worst attack the city has experienced and the worst ever to hit the north of England,” the prime minister said.
May said police knew the explosion involved a single terrorist with an improvised explosive device.
“We know that a single terrorist detonated his improvised explosive device near one of the exits of the venue, deliberately choosing the time and place to cause maximum carnage and to kill and injure indiscriminately,” the prime minister said.
“The explosion coincided with the conclusion of a pop concert which was attended by many young familes and groups of children.”
The injured, including many with “life-threatening injuries” are being treated in eight different hospitals across Greater Manchester, the prime minister said.
May and the leaders of other political parties suspended campaigning for the general election. The prime minister had been due to speak at a campaign event in south-west England.
Earlier in the morning, May spoke to the US president, Donald Trump, who offered his condolences. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, tweeted that he planned to call May later in the morning.
Number 10 said the government was not planning to increase the threat level to “critical” from “severe”, which is the fourth highest ranking. Critical – the highest ranking – would only be used if another attack was believed to be imminent.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who was to have spoken in the West Midlands, said it was a “terrible incident”. The Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, cancelled a planned visit to Gibraltar saying the country was “united in grief after this devastating terror attack”.
Candidates across the country have suspended campaigning but there is no prospect of parliament being recalled because it has been officially dissolved and there are no MPs until after the election.