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‘I ❤ MCR’ signs fill Manchester streets as crowds gather for vigil after concert bombing

People from Manchester Sikh Community carry “I love MCR” banners as they arrive to attend a vigil in Albert Square in Manchester, northwest England on May 23, 2017, in solidarity with those killed an injured in the May 22 terror attack at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena. BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

MANCHESTER, England — As investigators hunted for possible accomplices of a suicide bomber, thousands of people poured into the streets of Manchester in a vigil Tuesday for victims of a blast that bathed a pop concert in blood — the latest apparent battle-scarred target of Islamic extremists seeking to rattle daily life in the West.

The attack left at least 22 dead, including an 8-year-old girl, shattering the revelry at the close of a show by American singer Ariana Grande, where strains of electric pop and the sways of innocent young fans quickly gave way to an explosion, a flood of screams and a stampede of panicked concert-goers, many clutching pink balloons and wearing the kitten-ear headbands popularized by Grande.

Touching on that disconnect, British Prime Minister Theresa May said: “We struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room packed with young children not as a scene to cherish but as an opportunity for carnage.”

May said Britain’s terror threat level had been raised to critical — meaning another attack may be imminent. The status means armed soldiers could be deployed instead of police at public events including sports matches. The threat level had been at the second-highest run of “severe” for several years.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the horror, which also wounded 59 people, though a top American intelligence official said the assertion could not be verified. Manchester Police Chief Ian Hopkins identified the bomber as 22-year-old Salman Abedi, who authorities said died in the attack. Police raided two sites in the northern English city, setting off a controlled explosion in one, and arresting a 23-year-old man in a third location.

May said Abedi was born and raised in Britain. A European security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on ongoing investigations, said Abedi was of Libyan descent. There was no information released on the man who was arrested.

Late Tuesday, thousands of people, some holding up signs proclaiming “I Love MCR” — an abbreviation for Manchester — held a moment of silence at a vigil for the victims. Lord Mayor Eddy Newman and the city’s police chief were among the speakers in front of City Hall in Albert Square. A banner with a website for a Muslim group said “Love for all, Hatred for None.”

Monday’s bombing made Manchester Arena, one of the largest indoor concert venues in Europe, the latest apparent target of Islamic extremists striking at the heart of Western culture, an ideology baffling to the panicked young faces emerging from the concert.

Among those confirmed killed was Georgina Callander, whose death was reported by her former school, which posted a photo of her in her school uniform on its website and described her as a “lovely” and “very popular” young woman. Also killed was 8-year-old Saffie Roussos, who a teacher called “simply a beautiful little girl in every aspect of the word” who was warm, kind, “and unassuming, with a creative flair.”

Besides the dead, the wounded included at least 12 children under the age of 16, hospital officials said.

Grande, who was not injured in the blast, tweeted: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.”

The bombing took place after Grande closed the show with “Dangerous Woman” and left the stage and the audience streamed toward the city’s main train station. It scattered bolts and other metal scraps, apparently intended to maximize the bloodshed. People tumbled over guardrails and one another clawing toward an escape.

Around the United Kingdom and across Europe, the attack brought fear and mourning.

At Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II marked a moment of silence along her husband Prince Philip as well as Prince Charles and his wife Camilla. In Rome, the lights of the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain were darkened.

U.S. President Donald Trump, on a visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, called the perpetrators “evil losers” and said “this wicked ideology must be obliterated.”

Manchester, 160 miles (260 kilometers) northwest of London, is one of Britain’s largest cities. The attack was the deadliest in Britain since four suicide bombers killed 52 London commuters on subway trains and a bus in 2005.

Islamic State’s claim of responsibility echoed others the group has made for attacks in the West but with vague details that left open the possibility it was an opportunistic attempt at propaganda. Manchester itself has seen terror before, but not this deadly. The city was hit by a huge Irish Republican Army bomb in 1996 that leveled a swath of the city center. More than 200 people were injured, although no one was killed.

The bombing also elicited painful memories of the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, where most of the 130 killed were at the Bataclan concert hall.