Labour leader says it’s time to abandon ‘war on terror’
LONDON — Four days after a suicide bombing plunged Britain into mourning, political campaigning for a general election in two weeks resumed Friday with the main opposition leader linking acts of terrorism at home to foreign wars like the one in Libya.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn risked being assailed for politicizing the Manchester Arena attack that killed 22 people by claiming that his party would change Britain’s foreign policy if it takes power after the June 8 vote by abandoning the “war on terror.”
“Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home,” Corbyn said in his first speech since Monday night’s atrocity.
National campaigning had been on hold to honour the victims of the arena bombing.
Salman Abedi, the bomber who struck the Ariana Grande concert, had strong links to Libya. His parents were born and lived there before moving to Britain in the early 1990s. They eventually returned with several of their six children, and Abedi travelled there to visit his family on occasion.
Prime Minister Theresa May, who was attending a summit of the Group of Seven in Sicily, offered a blistering critique of Corbyn’s position when she was asked about it at a news conference.
May said that while she was at the summit rallying support for the fight against terrorism, “Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault, and he has said that just a few days after one of the worst terror attacks” in the country’s history.
“There can never, ever, be an excuse for terrorism,” she said, adding “the choice people face at the general election has become starker.”
While Corbyn could alienate some voters with his comments, he is trying to win back the many Labour supporters who turned away from the party in the aftermath of then prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Blair’s backing of president George W. Bush brought more than 1 million protesters into the streets. When the rationale for war failed to pan out because weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq, Blair’s popularity faded badly after a string of election victories.
When homegrown terrorists attacked London subway and bus lines in 2005, some blamed Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war. Corbyn’s speech reflects the view that Britain’s actions overseas are at least in part responsible for the increase in extremist attacks.
The Labour Party under Corbyn has consistently trailed Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives in the polls, but has begun to make gains in the last week. It is unclear how the worst attack in Britain in more than a decade will impact voter sentiment.
Grande, meanwhile, said that she would return to Manchester for a benefit concert to raise money for the victims and their families. The American singer didn’t announce a date for the concert.
“Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder and to live more kindly and generously than we did before,” Grande said in a statement.
Nine English residents were being held on suspicion of offences violating the Terrorism Act. Their ages range from 18 to 44.
Authorities are chasing possible links between the Abedi and militants in Manchester, elsewhere in Europe, and in North Africa and the Middle East.
Abedi, a college dropout who grew up in the Manchester area, was known to security services because of his radical views. He reportedly was in contact with family members just before the attack.
Flowers and balloons are left in St. Ann’s Square in Manchester on Friday.