Four days after a suicide bombing plunged Britain into mourning, political campaigning resumed Friday for next month’s general election with the main opposition leader linking deadly terrorism at home to foreign wars like the one in Libya.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn risked being assailed for politicizing the attack on Manchester Arena that killed 22 people by claiming in his first post-atrocity speech that his party would change Britain’s foreign policy if it takes power after the June 8 vote by abandoning the “war on terror.”
“Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home,” he said as national campaigning resumed after a hiatus to honor the victims in the arena blast.
Salman Abedi, the bomber who struck the Ariana Grande concert on Monday night, had strong links to Libya. His parents had been born there before moving to Britain and he traveled there on occasion.
While Corbyn may face criticism for his comments, he is trying to win back the many Labour supporters who turned away from the party in the aftermath of then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to back President George W. Bush in the 2003 Iraq war. More than 1 million protesters marched on Britain’s Parliament to condemn Blair’s move, which proved hugely controversial, in part because the case for war was built around the idea that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
When none were found, Blair faced widespread criticism and his popularity, which saw him lead the Labour Party to three straight election victories, eroded. There was then also heated criticism in some quarters that the July 7, 2005 public transport bombings in London came as a result of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war.
The Labour Party under Corbyn has trailed Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives in the polls, but has begun to make gains in the last week. It is unclear how the worst attack in Britain in more than a decade will impact voter sentiment.
British police investigating the Manchester bombing made a new arrest Friday while continuing to search several properties.
Seven other men are being held on suspicion of offenses violating the Terrorism Act. Their ages ranged from 18 to 38.
A 16-year-old boy and a 34-year-old woman who had been arrested were released without charge, police said.
Authorities are chasing possible links between the Abedi and militants in Manchester, elsewhere in Europe, and in North Africa and the Middle East. Britain’s security level has been upgraded to “critical” meaning officials believe another attack may be imminent.
Abedi, a college dropout who had grown up in the Manchester area, was known to security services because of his radical views. His parents came to Britain early in the 1990s.
He reportedly was in contact with family members just before the attack.
The name of the man arrested in the early hours Friday and those of the seven others in custody were not released. No one has yet been charged in the bombing.
London police say extra security is being added for major sporting events this weekend including the FA Cup soccer final at Wembley Stadium.
Chief Superintendent Jon Williams said Friday extra protection measures and extra officers are being deployed throughout the capital because of the increased terrorist threat level.
He said fans coming to soccer and rugby matches this weekend should come earlier than usual because of added security screening.
Williams said “covert and discrete tactics” will also be in place to protect the transport network.
He says police want the approach to be “unpredictable” and to make London “as hostile an environment as possible to terrorists.”
British police working on the case have resumed intelligence-sharing with U.S. counterparts after a brief halt because of anger over leaks to U.S. media thought by Britain to be coming from U.S. officials.
British officials say that have received assurances from U.S. authorities that confidential material will be protected.