There are post-war precedents, though to be fair, mercifully not many. The highest number of fatalities during the brutal IRA mainland bombing campaign in the 1970s was the 21 killed in the Birmingham Pub Bombings of November 1974; this atrocity was topped by the 7/7 attacks in 2005, which claimed 52 lives – the highest number of fatalities on British soil since the Second World War. Now, added to the litany of mass murders in peacetime Britain is last night’s explosion at the Manchester Arena. As I started writing this around an hour after first hearing about it, 19 deaths had been reported; coming back to finish it off after a kip, the body-count had risen to 22. Echoes of the massacre that occurred in Paris in November 2015 are inevitable, coming as it did at a music venue packed with thousands seeking an entertaining night out.
During the ‘War on Terror’ we seem to have been living through ever since 9/11, Blighty has been fortunate in that incidents of this nature have been relatively minor, largely restricted to a small handful of deaths caused by amateur Jihadists lacking the ammunition to do damage on a large scale. The 7/7 bombings were unique in the level of their co-ordination and execution, but nothing comparable in terms of fatalities had been seen in over a decade until yesterday. Whether that suggests this country’s security forces are better at their jobs than their continental equivalents or that multicultural integration has been achieved with a greater success here than in any mainland European nation is open to debate. However, neither proposal prevented what happened in Manchester.
As I’m neither a 12-year-old girl nor the father of a 12-year-old daughter, I confess I’d never heard the name Ariana Grande until news of events at the US singer’s Manchester gig broke; I suppose that name will now be immortalised in the worst manner imaginable, forever associated with an incident that she herself had no hand in. From what I can gather, she sounds the type of production-line pop star that US showbiz specialises in, the kind of Miley Cyrus marionette that attracts young teenage girls to her shows, many of whom (it would seem) are amongst the dead in Manchester.
I suppose for some present the concert would have been their introduction to the live music experience and most will have been chaperoned there by a parent. For the same age group flocking to scream at The Osmonds or David Cassidy 45 years ago, the biggest worry would have been the possibility of being crushed at the front of the stage. Nobody back then envisaged this kind of horrific outcome when attending something as frivolous as a pop concert.
The suicide bomber, whilst a popular employment option in the Middle East, is an industry that has never really caught on in a big way outside of Islamic war-zones. It could be that job satisfaction resting upon the likelihood of death serves as a bit of a deterrent, despite the Paradise pension scheme and its appealing clause concerning available virgins. The suicide bomber business has done its best to establish European branches via online salesmen, though the UK’s response has mostly consisted of recruits travelling abroad as the brickies did in ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ rather than working from home. The 7/7 bombers were the exception rather than the rule here, which is why the fact that the incident at the Manchester Arena being triggered by a deranged individual wearing the latest Middle Eastern explosive ensemble is such a shock.
From what is known so far, the suicide bomber pressed the detonator in the foyer of the Arena just as the audience was beginning to leave the concert; his presence as the cause of the chaos was backed-up by eyewitness reports of nuts and bolts scattered across the area and the unmistakable odour of explosives in the air. It’s possible he was operating alone, though the suspicion that he may be a member of a network whose other members may well be plotting a similar operation hasn’t been ruled out. Unlike 7/7, the majority of these incidents in the UK – whether the murder of Lee Rigby or recent events on Westminster Bridge – have been the handiwork of individuals as opposed to a team; this particular incident would have required considerable planning, though that doesn’t necessarily mean one wannabe Kamikaze couldn’t have done it on his own.
When one thinks of the large-scale public events that have taken place in this country since 2005 – Royal Weddings, Jubilees, the 2012 London Olympics – the fact they’ve passed by without any contribution from the suicide bomber sector could be viewed as a triumph over such nihilistic interventions. But perhaps these events were a tad too obvious, attracting an intense police presence and security service planning months in advance; a pop concert by a singer in Manchester that few over 30 have even heard of, on the other hand – well, who would have expected that? The element of surprise appears to be an essential aspect of this kind of project.
The General Election campaign has been temporarily suspended, flags are flying at half-mast, the TV news channels are replaying the same images and reporting the same stories on a loop again, social media is awash with virtue signalling, and world leaders have issued their commiserations and condemnations; the pick of the latter was undoubtedly Donald Trump’s description of the perpetrator in the plural as ‘evil losers’. And that’s about it at the moment; not a lot else to add other than it’s shit innit.
© The Editor