EDITOR' NOTE: This is an ongoing story that will be updated. All times Eastern US.

Update 4:17am: Police updated the death toll from the blast to 22.

Update 3:10am: British police confirm the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber.

Update 10:51pm: Pop star Ariana Grande publicly responds for the first time since the blast:

 

 

Update 10:00pm: Moment of explosion from inside the arena:

 

 

Update: 9:43pm: Forensic evidence from scene points to possibility of a suicide bomber.

At the Manchester Arena, the largest arena in Europe, at least 20 fatalities have been confirmed in what officials are saying may have been a terrorist attack. A bomb exploded at approximately 10:40 p.m. at the concert venue in Manchester. American singer Ariana Grande was performing when concertgoers heard and felt an explosion that rocked the arena in the city in northern England. There are reports that at least 50 people may be injured by the blast and the resulting stampede of fans. There are reports that a suicide-bomber, laden with a nail-bomb, detonated the device.

According to eyewitnesses cited by SkyNews, at least 35 people were seen lying on the ground at the arena. Grande is popular with pre-teens and teenagers, sparking fears that children may be among the fatalities.

In a video that emerged on Twitter, a photo showed a stricken girl who was reportedly injured by a nail-bomb. NBC news cited officials sources as saying that 20 persons were confirmed dead. Some of the victims showed bombs consistent with the current theory that it was a nail-bomb that detonated at the concert venue.

There are reports that President Donald Trump has been informed of the incident. It came just a day after a speech the president gave in Riyadh to leaders of the world's Muslim countries calling upon them to destroy terrorist cells. House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed his condolences via Twitter. British Prime Minister Theresa May released a statement saying that her thoughts were with the victims.

Police have sealed off the area with heavily-armed units. A bomb unit was deployed to search for any secondary explosives. When the bomb detonated, fans ran screaming from the arena to seek safety. Once the blast took place, cell phone video showed scenes of chaos while people screamed and fled. It was just as the concert was ending, when pink balloons had fallen from the arena’s ceiling, that the explosion ripped through the arena. Some concert-goers thought at first that bursting balloons had caused a panic.

 

Reports indicate that the number of fatalities at the concert at the Manchester Arena may be over 20.

Witnesses later reported that they saw prone bodies on the floor and the wounded staggering out of the arena, battered and bloodied. Wythenshawe, the local hospital, is reportedly seeking to care for “mass casualties.” There were parents panicked over the children’s fate. Many of the concert-goers were teenaged.

“It was really scary,” said Michelle Sullivan to the BBC. She and her 12- and 15-year-old daughters had been in attendance. “Just as the lights have gone down we heard a really loud explosion... Everybody screamed.” She added, “When we got out they just said 'Keep on running, keep on running.'”

Manchester transport police said the explosion occurred in the foyer of the arena, which has a capacity of 21,000. There are also reports that it may have been a suicide bomber who detonated the explosive device.

Grande, an American, is a 23-year-old pop singer and actress who began appearing on the Nickelodeon television show Victorious in 2010. She is now touring to promote her third studio album, "Dangerous Woman." She has sold more than 1.7 million albums in recent years.

The terror alert status in the United Kingdom was already at the “severe” level before the explosion. It came after a Muslim assailant, inspired by ISIS, drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, killing four people and injuring more than 50. He crashed his car into a fence of the British Parliament and fatally stabbed a police officer. Terrorist Khalid Masood was shot to death by another officer. There have been recent raids on Muslim terror groups in London that led to at least four arrests, according to a May 17 report by The Guardian newspaper. The four men were arrested on “suspicion of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.” Metropolitan Police said, ” These arrests were pre-planned as part of an ongoing investigation by the Met’s counter-terrorism command and MI5. The arrests are linked to activity in the UK.”

Police in London also carried out raids in late April, leading to arrests that disrupted two separate attack plots, including one man arrested in Westminster and another in north west London, where three Muslim women were arrested. One was shot by police.

The Mayor of London tweeted after the bombing that "London stands with Manchester."
 
However, in September 2016, after bombings in New York City, Khan said on a visit to the Big Apple that Sadiq Khan has said he believes the threat of terror attacks are “part and parcel of living in a big city” while encouraging Londoners to combat terrorist dangers. Khan claimed to have spent a “sleepless night” after the bombing in New York. He said that cities all over the globe “have got to be prepared for these sorts of things.” Khan said “That means being vigilant, having a police force that is in touch with communities, it means the security services being ready, but it also means exchanging ideas and best practice." Khan was interviewed by the UK-based Evening Standard newspaper just before meeting with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio (D). 


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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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