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Manchester attack: UK reduces terror threat level to ‘severe’

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Britain’s terror threat level has been reduced to “severe” from “critical,” UK Prime Minister Theresa May said Saturday after meeting with security chiefs.

“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,” May said.

The decision to lower the threat rating from its highest level was made by the country’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre in light of the arrests made in the Manchester attack investigation, May said. The level had been raised to “critical” after Monday’s deadly bombing.

Investigators are continuing efforts to try to contain the network they believe is behind the suicide attack by Salman Abedi, 22, a British national of Libyan descent who targeted an Ariana Grande show.

Armed police will patrol events in Manchester, London and elsewhere this weekend as Britain marks its first holiday since the Manchester bombing.

Where will people see extra security?

In Manchester, events planned around the spring bank holiday will go ahead with additional security, including a significant number of armed officers, police said. British officers do not usually carry guns.

These include the Manchester Games, the Great Manchester Run, and a stadium show by bands including The Courteeners, all of which are likely to attract big crowds. This weekend also marks the start of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar.

“The change in the national threat level from ‘critical’ to ‘severe’ does not alter our response to Monday’s horrific attack, which claimed so many innocent lives,” Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said.

Among high-profile events taking place in London are the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, a major event in the soccer calendar, and a rugby final at Twickenham stadium. Chelsea Football Club canceled a Sunday parade to honor its Premier League victory.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said enhanced security plans would remain in place in the capital this weekend despite the downgrading of the national threat level. Khan urged Londoners to remain vigilant, he said via Facebook.

Extra armed officers can patrol events this weekend because soldiers will guard key locations such as the Houses of Parliament, Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, said Chief Superintendent Jon Williams of London’s Metropolitan Police Service.

Officers will be present at some events and popular places that they would not normally patrol, he said.

“All of this is designed to make the policing approach unpredictable and to make London as hostile an environment as possible to terrorists,” Williams said.

What’s happened in the investigation?

Two more men were arrested early Saturday and taken into custody after officers carried out a controlled explosion to enter a home in the Cheetham Hill area of central Manchester, police said in a statement. So far, 13 people have been arrested in the investigation, with 11 still in custody.

Police on Saturday also evacuated an area around a property in the Moss Side neighborhood of Manchester.

Police are “making enormous progress” in the Manchester bombing investigation, “but we’ve still got some loose ends to tie up,” Britain’s top counterterror officer, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, said Friday.

“The understanding of (the plot) is growing day by day. I think we’ve got our hands around a large part of it,” he said. “We’ve got our hands around some of the key players. We still have more to do.”

UK authorities have disrupted five plots since March 22, when a terror attack outside Parliament in London left five people dead, Security Minister Ben Wallace said.

“There are over 400 investigations currently ongoing by the security services and police into terrorist planning or people thinking about terrorist planning,” he said.

What about the Libya connection?

Abedi’s younger brother said he knew generally about the plot but did not know where and when the blast would be, a Libyan militia spokesman told private broadcaster Libya’s Channel.

Hashim Ramadan Abu Qassem al-Abedi spoke by phone with his brother Salman only 15 minutes before the blast, the spokesman said. The bomber’s brother was detained in Libya a day after the bombing by a militia nominally under the control of Libya’s interior ministry.

The militia also arrested the brothers’ father, Ramadan al-Abedi.

What about the victims?

All 22 of those killed in the bomb attack at the Manchester Arena concert have now been named. Many were children, including an 8-year-old girl. Others were parents waiting to pick up their children from what for many would have been their first concert.

Family and friends have paid moving tributes to those lost. Dozens more were injured, and as of Thursday, 23 survivors remained in critical care in Manchester hospitals. Many suffered “horrific” and potentially life-changing injuries, a senior doctor said.

Ariana Grande posted a letter Friday to Twitter saying she would return to Manchester to perform a benefit concert to raise money for the victims of the bombing and their families.

“The compassion, kindness, love, strength and oneness that you’ve shown one another this past week is the exact opposite of the heinous intentions it must take to pull off something as evil as what happened Monday,” she said.

What’s the mood in Manchester?

Politicians of all stripes have praised the people of Manchester for their spirit of unity and resilience in the wake of the attack.

Banks of flowers and balloons have been left in a city center square in tribute to the victims, and residents have joined vigils in their memory.

An armed policeman was snapped blowing a kiss to a group of people holding a “free hugs” sign, and street artists have painted new murals to honor the victims.

However, there is a darker side to life in the city in the wake of the bombing. Reports of hate crimes have spiked, from 28 on Monday — a typical number — to 56 on Wednesday, police said.

These can’t be directly linked to Monday’s bombing, Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said, but police are monitoring the situation.

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