At around 22.30 last Monday, Manchester was subjected to an horrific attack at a pop concert. As the world now knows, a suicide bomber deliberately targeted young people and their friends and families as they were leaving a concert by the young pop singer Ariana Grande. In that attack, 22 people, including children as young as 8 years old lost their lives. Many, many more received life changing injuries.
This is the first confirmed suicide bombing attack in the UK since 7 July 2005. On that day, 12 years ago, I was working in London. I can vividly recall the aftermath of that attack. Shock, horror, disbelief, later turning to anger. But I also vividly recall the reactions of Londoners and visitors to London I met, talked to or simply listened to over the days that followed. Only a few days after the 7th I was travelling by bus to a meeting when quite unbidden a middle aged American couple, obviously tourists, told me and everyone else on the bus that they shared our pain and that they were praying for us. I am not a religious man, indeed, I have no faith whatsoever, but I was deeply moved by that couple’s sincerity. Later, towards the end of July, my wife and I were travelling by Tube towards St Pancras on our way to Paris for our wedding anniversary. The driver of that Tube welcomed us (and everyone else) aboard the “up yours al-Qaeda express”. This show of defiance in the face of horror actually raised a number of smiles from those around us. London survived, Londoners endured.
The citizens of Manchester are now all facing profound shock and grief. That shock and grief will also be felt by anyone who has any shred of humanity within them. London was bad – 52 people lost their lives in that series of co-ordinated attacks. But somehow, Manchester feels worse, much worse. The London bombers targeted morning Tube and bus travellers – mainly commuters, some of whom were late for work because of earlier rail disruption that day. They were a soft target. But the Manchester bombing was callously and deliberately aimed at the ultimate soft target – kids; youngsters and their families emerging from what should have been a wonderful night out. Kids simply enjoying themselves at a concert many would have been planning for and looking forward to for months. Ariane Grande’s fanbase is primarily young women and girls. The attacker would have known that and yet he deliberately chose to detonate his bomb at that time and that place. He, and any accomplices he may have had, deserve nothing but our contempt. Manchester will survive, and Mancunians will endure. They have faced this before in the IRA truck bombing in June 1996. That attack didn’t break them. This one won’t either.
Meanwhile, everyone must grieve for the loss of so many young lives in such a pointless, pitiless attack. My thoughts, and those of my family, are with Manchester.