Emergency responders arriving at the Manchester Arena following a bomb attack at an Ariana Grande concert on May 22. Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images

In Manchester, Jews have been preparing for an attack for years


Britain’s bloodiest terrorist attack in over a decade occurred Monday just two miles from Rabbi Yisroel Cohen’s synagogue.

Yet one day after the deadly bombing in Manchester, Cohen told JTA he has no intention of changing security arrangements at his congregation.

In fact Cohen, a Chabad emissary who works in a Jewish enclave in the northern part of the city surrounded by a heavily Muslim area, said there is little room for improving security across his tight-knit community.

After all, the Jewish community in Manchester — one of the U.K.’s fastest-growing spots thanks to an influx of immigrants and young couples seeking alternatives to pricey London — has been on its highest alert since long before the explosion that killed 22 people and wounded 50 at an Ariana Grande concert. On Tuesday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the act.

“Well, the radio equipment is working, the residents have been briefed, police are patrolling, security professionals from the Jewish community have been in place since the attacks in Belgium” last year, Cohen said when asked about security. “There is only so much you can do – except pray.”

On Kings Road, a busy street of the heavily Jewish borough of Prestwich, residents keep an eye out for strangers. Any abnormal behavior – particularly photography or the gathering of information — quickly invites polite but firm inquiries by both passers-by as well as shopkeepers who cater to the local population of haredi and modern Orthodox Jews.

The vigilance in Jewish Manchester owes much of its preparation and training to the local police, the Community Security Trust organization and other groups. But it is also born of circumstance: Manchester’s some 30,000 Jews are concentrated in a relatively small area. This makes them an easy target, but it also means that the community’s institutions are easier to protect and vigilance is easier to instill.

While there are also concentrations of Jews in North London, in Manchester — a city of 2.5 million, where 15.8 percent of the population is Muslim — there is added tension because the Jewish and Muslim communities live in close proximity. Kings Road, for example, is sandwiched between the Judaica World bookstore on its western end and the Masjid Bilal mosque on its eastern one.

This juxtaposition in recent years has generated some friction, including in the harassment of Jews on the street and the occasional violent incident.

At least one more premeditated plan to attack Manchester Jews was uncovered and foiled five years ago. In 2012, a British judge imprisoned a Muslim couple, Mohammed Sajid  and Shasta Khan, for seven years for gathering intelligence on Manchester Jews for an attack.

 

“That incident came at a time of reassessment about the threat to Jews in Manchester, and it was one of the reasons that led to a complete overhaul,” Cohen said.

“So today, we in the Jewish community are perhaps less surprised than others at what happened,” the rabbi added, though he also said that Mancunian Jews are “shocked at the horror” witnessed at the concert.

Paul Harris, editor of the city’s Jewish Telegraph weekly, told JTA he generally agrees that Manchester’s Jewish community is well prepared to deal with any emergency or fallout thereof, but he also flagged one weak point: On evenings and afternoons, observant Jews in the city congregate outside synagogue — a habit that makes them an easy target and which, for that reason, has largely been abandoned in at-risk communities in France and beyond.

“Maybe that will change now,” Harris said.

In a statement Tuesday following a suspect’s arrest, Prime Minister Theresa May said the bombing was a “callous terrorist attack” that targeted “defenseless young people.” Police believe a homemade explosive vest was detonated by a suicide bomber who may or may not have been working alone.

The explosion ripped through the 21,000-seat Manchester Arena at 10:30 p.m. after Grande, a 23-year-old pop singer from the United States, had already left the stage. At least 12 of the 22 killed in the attack were children younger than 16. News of the explosion sent worried parents to the arena, where children, teenagers and young adults streamed out of the main exit in a state of panic.

Cohen said that Chabad was not aware of Jewish fatalities in the attack.

The attack happened a little over two weeks before the June 8 general election in which hardliner Theresa May from the Conservative Party is running against Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party. The attack may further increase May’s lead in the polls on Corbyn, a left-leaning promoter of outreach to Muslims who has called Hezbollah and Hamas his friends.

Last year Corbyn — amid intense criticism in the media and from members of his own party for his perceived failures in curbing expressions of anti-Semitism within Labour’s ranks — said he regretted expressing affection to the two Islamist terror groups. Following the attack Monday, all parties agreed to suspend campaigning for three days.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference Tuesday in Jerusalem with President Donald Trump, who was visiting Israel, referenced the attack in criticizing incitement to terrorism by the Palestinian Authority under its president, Mahmoud Abbas.

“President Abbas condemned the horrific attack in Manchester,” Netanyahu said while standing next to Trump. “Well, I hope this heralds a real change, because if the attacker had been Palestinian and the victims had been Israeli children, the suicide bomber’s family would have received a stipend from the Palestinian Authority. That’s Palestinian law. That law must be changed.”

Speaking in Bethlehem, Trump joined other world leaders who condemned the attack.

“I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. I will call them losers,” he said.

Back in Manchester, Rabbi Shneur Cohen of the Chabad Manchester Center City organized a food and drinks distribution to police officers who were stationed outside the arena where the attack took place.

“We are Manchester, we stand together,” Cohen told reporters at the scene.

But Harris, the Jewish Telegraph editor, said that despite such gestures, “there is definitely a silence, a shocked silence” in the city following the attack.

Police officers standing in front of the Manchester Arena in England, where a suspected suicide bomber killed at least 22 people on May 23. Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images

22 killed in suspected terror attack at Ariana Grande concert in England


At least 22 people were killed in a suspected terrorist attack during a concert in northern England by the American pop star Ariana Grande.

Grande was not hurt in the explosion Monday night at the 21,000-seat Manchester Arena, which Prime Minister Theresa May said was likely a terrorist attack, The Guardian reported. British authorities said the explosion may have come from an explosive vest detonated in the crowd by a suicide bomber.

On Tuesday, the Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Many of the dozens wounded in the attack were teenagers and young adults, according to Reuters. Worried parents began arriving at the arena in search of their loved ones.

The attack was the deadliest in Britain since 2005 bombings in London left 52 people dead.

The European Jewish Congress condemned the “appalling and barbaric terrorist attack” in a statement issued hours after the bombing, which occurred as the concert was nearing its end.

“This horrific attack demonstrates once again that the enemies of civilization have no boundaries,” said Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the EJC. “This was a concert attended by mostly youth and children and is a ghastly reminder that terrorism sees all of us as potential targets, regardless of age, religion, nationality or background.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement condemned the attack and sent condolences to the families of the victims.

“Terrorism is a global threat and the enlightened countries must work together to defeat it everywhere,” he said.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder condemned the attack as “despicable and horrendous.”

“The world stands united in its resolve to confront and defeat the scourge of terrorism,” he said in a statement. “Our liberties and our way of life shall triumph.”

Grande, 23, wrote on Twitter that she was “broken” and “so sorry.” The singer grew up Catholic but left the faith over the treatment of homosexuals in favor of Kabbalah Jewish studies that in 2014 she said “changed her life.”

The attack comes about two weeks before the United Kingdom’s general election in which May, a hard-liner from the center-right Conservative Party, is running against the left-wing Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, who supports boycotting Israeli settlements and is widely perceived as having tried to promote better relations and understanding between mainstream British parties and groups associated with radical Islam.

May called an early election following the resignation last year of David Cameron, also a Conservative, who stepped down from the prime minister’s post following a referendum he called in which a majority of voters rejected his position that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union. Immigration by Muslims and other foreigners played a central role in the debate about whether the kingdom should leave or remain within the bloc it helped establish in the 1970s.

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