‘We’re resilient and won’t be beaten by terrorists’

The two-minute silence at Blackpool Town Hall
The two-minute silence at Blackpool Town Hall
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Thirty years as a chief inspector with Greater Manchester Police and eight years as a counter terrorism expert puts James Bonworth in a strong position to try to dissect last Monday’s suicide bomb attack in Manchester.

But even with all of his experience, contacts and knowledge, UCLan lecturer James Bonworth still says finding a reason behind these attacks is incredibly difficult.

Police search an address in Greater Manchester last week

Police search an address in Greater Manchester last week

Twenty-two people, including Jane Tweddle from Blackpool, were killed when a nail bomb was detonated in the foyer of Manchester Arena.

A further 119 were injured when 22-year-old Salman Abedi, who was born and raised in Manchester, set off the bomb killing himself.

And James says the young age of the terrorist represents something of a trend.

“In the last 40 years we’re seeing lots of the people involved in these attacks are under the age of 30 and a lot under the age of 26,” James said. “There are a lot of contradictions about the sort of people who become radicalised .

This investigation alone will go on for two maybe three years because there’s so much for the police to get through

“Some believe there’s a strong correlation between terrorists and well educated young men. Others say there’s more links with poverty and deprivation.

“Of course, it’s incredibly difficult to learn more about the make-up of actual terrorists because we don’t get to speak to them.”

And James was dismayed at the reaction from a small proportion of the public, suggesting the police could have done more.

“Not just in this incident, but I hear people saying he should have been arrested before because he was on police’s ‘radar’,” he said.

Lecturer for counter terrorism at UCLan James Bonworth

Lecturer for counter terrorism at UCLan James Bonworth

“The reality is there are many different levels of ‘on the radar’.

“It is impossible and incredibly expensive to just kept surveilling people.

“They may be 1,000s of people in the UK who could be up to something.

“Even if someone says they agree with killing people or with terrorist’s methods, they haven’t actually competed any criminal acts.

“This investigation alone will go on for two maybe three years because there’s so much for the police to get through.

“The team looking through all of the CCTV which has been seized will be huge and that’s as well as going through phone details and interviews with witnesses.

“Of course we’d like to know exactly what was being done to protect us but its secrecy is important for its success.”

So-called Islamic State has claimed Salman was “one of their soldiers” but this has yet to be confirmed.

And James says it is unlikely terror attacks like the one on Westminster in March have the same religions behind them.

James said: “We don’t know the motivation or the religion behind these incidents.

“But one thing we do think do know is they look to make these attacks remarkable.

“What they want is to target the oxygen of publicity.

“They want to see a backlash against the majority of the Muslim population to push them away from the rest.

“They want them to be forced into agreeing with their way of thinking and to see Islam how they see it.”

The attack came at 10.30pm as thousands of fans were leaving American popstar Ariana Grande’s concert.

Making her name on children’s television channel Nickelodeon, the singer’s fan base is mostly teenagers.

And the fact children were targeted in the attack has led many to fear how extreme future terror attacks may be.

But James says although children being involved in terrorist attacks is a first for Britain, it is nothing new for the rest of the world.

“Hundreds of children have been killed across the Middle East and we’ve even seen mass executions by children,” James said.

“It’s all about making it remarkable. That means it’s unlikely they’ll do something similar again so I wouldn’t say it will keep escalating getting worse and worse every time.

“Each attack tends to be different but it’s important to remember they often aren’t connected and aren’t all by the same people.

“I actually think the media are being exceptionally responsible in how they’re reporting all of this.

“There’s been no scare-mongering or blaming of different groups...yet.”

Vigils have been held across Lancashire and Manchester with thousands paying tribute to those killed in the attack and showing solidarity with the people of Manchester.

There was a two-minute silence held outside Blackpool Town Hall, where many floral tributes and candles have been left by townsfolk.

And local schools have been offering help to any pupils who were at the Arena on Monday night - or to any traumatised by the events they have seen.

And James says the reaction to the attack has been “very uplifting”.

“It is very close to home, my partner went to see Take That at the Manchester Arena two weeks ago.

“But we can’t go tarring people embedded in our community with one brush. Lots of different groups can commit acts of extremism.

“Everyone has there own reactions and it might be a long journey to recovery.

“But it’s our resilience as human beings which means our communities won’t be broken apart by these terrorists.

“Terrorists will never win.”