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Manchester Suicide Bombing: 8 more men arrested during investigation

Abedi’s father and brother were arrested by Libyan security forces Wednesday

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A group of police officers stand outside flats in Hulme, Manchester, May 25, 2017.VOA
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Manchester, May 25, 2017: Eight men are now in custody in connection with Monday’s suicide bombing at a Manchester, England pop concert, including two men who were arrested in separate raids early Thursday.

A woman arrested Wednesday during a raid on an apartment north of Manchester has been released without charge.

Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said these past few days have been “intense” for the officers and staff of the department but that they continue to make progress in the investigation.

“I want to reassure people that the arrests that we have made are significant. And initial searches of premises have reveled items that we believe are very important to the investigation,” he said Thursday.

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Police have given no information about how the detained men may be connected to the bombing.

Moment of silence

A moment of silence was held in Manchester Thursday morning for the victims of Monday’s suicide bombing following a pop music concert.

Residents gathered in a large circle in the city’s St. Ann’s Square with heads bowed before a makeshift memorial of flowers, balloons and candles dedicated to the 22 people killed when Salman Abedi detonated an improvised device just moments after a concert by American pop singer Ariana Grande.

Shortly after the memorial service, Queen Elizabeth arrived at Royal Manchester’s Children’s Hospital to visit some of the 64 people injured in the attack. Many of the victims were young children.

In a televised message, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that Britain’s terror threat level will remain at critical.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II speaks to Evie Mills, 14, from Harrogate, and her father Craig, as she visits the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital in Manchester, to meet victims of the terror attack in the city earlier this week, May 25, 2017.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II speaks to Evie Mills, 14, from Harrogate, and her father Craig, as she visits the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital in Manchester, to meet victims of the terror attack in the city earlier this week, May 25, 2017.VOA

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Bomber’s father, brother arrested

Abedi’s father and brother were arrested by Libyan security forces Wednesday. A spokesman for the Libyan anti-terrorism force said the brother, Hashim Abedi, had recently been in contact with Salman and knew of his plans for the attack.

Abedi’s father, Ramadan, told Reuters he spoke to his son five days ago, and “everything was normal.”

His son did not have extremist beliefs, Ramadan Abedi said in Tripoli, where he lives. He added, however, that Abedi did not disclose he was heading for Manchester when he left Libya last week.

The elder Abedi told the Reuters news agency he condemns “terrorist acts on civilians and innocent people.”

Chief Hopkins told reporters Wednesday, “It’s very clear that this is a network that we are investigating,” and that Abedi did not act alone.

Hashim Ramadan Abedi appears inside the Tripoli-based Special Deterrent anti-terrorism force unit after his arrest on Tuesday for alleged links to the Islamic State extremist group, May 24, 2017.
Hashim Ramadan Abedi appears inside the Tripoli-based Special Deterrent anti-terrorism force unit after his arrest on Tuesday for alleged links to the Islamic State extremist group, May 24, 2017. VOA

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Trip to Syria

In France, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Wednesday that British and French intelligence have information that Abedi had likely traveled to Syria.

Collomb told France’s BFM television Abedi “grew up in Britain and then suddenly, after a trip to Libya and then likely to Syria, became radicalized and decided to carry out this attack. In any case, the links with Daesh are proven.”

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, but British and U.S. intelligence have not confirmed that the extremist group was involved.

British and American newspapers have printed police images of some evidence left on the floor of the arena where Abedi blew himself up, including shreds of a backpack or vest that apparently held the bomb and a piece of bloodstained metal that may have been the detonator. (VOA)

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Emergence of Radical Political Groups Raises Concern in Pakistan

Concerns are being voiced about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

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Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
  • Tension in Pakistan increasing due to emergence of Radical Political Groups.
  • Extremist groups are gaining a footing in Country’s politics.
  • According to reports, goverment’s efforts are not enough to stop the emerging radicalism in Pakistan.

Concerns are being voiced in Pakistan about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

Taj Haider, one of the prominent and founding members of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has been in power five times since 1970, told VOA the country is again seeing the trend of extremist groups camouflaging themselves to enter into politics.

“Religion and politics cannot go hand in hand, but unfortunately this is our new reality. We have seen the recent by-elections in Lahore and Peshawar where militant-turned-political parties were able to mobilize people and gather votes,” Haider said. “And these so-called new political parties, with proven terror records, look determined to contest the upcoming elections in 2018.”

In a recent high-level party meeting presided by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Pakistan’s slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the government was sharply criticized on its inability to forcefully implement the National Action Plan and bar proscribed groups from entering the political sphere.

The National Action Plan is a 20-point strategy devised to combat extremism in 2015 that clearly states no banned groups can operate in the country by changing their names or identity.

Analysts say many other political parties are also agitated and wary about the recent political dynamic that has allowed radicalized groups to enter the political arena.

“The government has repeatedly said it will not allow the hardliners to enter into politics, but the reality is different, these parties are going into masses,” Rasul Baksh Raees, a prominent analyst from Pakistan told VOA.

“As long as these proscribed groups stick to their extreme ideologies and violence, they will be a danger to the society and democracy itself.”

Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistani religious party. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

PPP’s acute criticism came as Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), inaugurated the office of his newly launched political party Milli Muslim League (MML) in the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistan’s Election Commission rejected MML’s party registration application in October, citing its link to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S. designated terror-sponsoring organization.

But MML looks determined to contest the upcoming state and provincial elections. The party has several offices, has launched a website, and has a social media team spreading its messages through Facebook and Twitter.

Pakistan’s government has repeatedly emphasized it will not tolerate any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to use democracy and political means to spread their extreme ideologies.

But critics still say the government is not doing enough to stop radical groups from entering politics.

“Look what happened in Lahore’s recent by-election and who can forget the power show by extremists on the roads of Islamabad. The government was totally helpless,” Raees said.

During the Lahore election in September, a MML backed independent candidate secured the fourth position in the race. The by-election was also contested by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TeL), another extremist religious party created to carry-on Mumtaz Qadri’s mission, the bodyguard who killed Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer in 2011 after he had demanded reforms in the controversial blasphemy law. Mumtaz Qadri was later sentenced to death.

Islamic Extremists
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party (VOA)

In November, thousands of followers of the Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labaik blocked Islamabad roads for weeks and demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, after accusing him of blasphemy. The government eventually surrendered to hardliners’ demands after Pakistan’s military played the role of mediator.

The experts say the emerging trend of politicizing militancy is a danger to democracy. They also point out the sectarian and hardline rationale will further complicate the situation in the country that has been trying to combat terrorism for more than a decade.

“Imagine when these hardliners, through political parties, will spread their extreme views on the grassroots level. What will be the future of this country?” Raees said.

But some politicians dismiss the blending of radicalized groups into politics. Haider believes the people of Pakistan can differentiate between politicians and extremists and will not allow militant-turned-politicians to thrive.

“If you look at the past, the religious parties including the Jamaat-i-Islami [an old religious party], despite having a huge following, were never able to clean sweep or get majority in the electoral process of the country,” said Haider.

“Even now, with all these efforts, I believe Milli Muslim League or Tehreek-e-Labaik will not be able to pull large numbers during the general elections. Religious or sectarian votes are scattered in the country and can’t be unified and will not help these newly established political parties to win a prominent number of seats.” VOA