MANCHESTER, England - British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday night raised the nation's threat level and deployed the military to guard concerts, sports matches and other public events, saying another attack "may be imminent" following a bombing Monday night that left 22 people dead.
The announcement, which takes Britain's alert level from "severe" to its highest rating, "critical," clears the way for thousands of British troops to take to the streets and replace police officers in guarding key sites.
May announced the move after chairing an emergency meeting of her security cabinet and concluding that the attacker who carried out Monday's bombing may have been part of a wider network that is poised to strike again. The decision, she said, was "a proportionate and sensible response to the threat that our security experts judge we face."
The worst terrorist attack on British soil in over a decade was carried out by a 22-year-old British citizen who lived a short drive from the concert hall that he transformed from a scene of youthful merriment into a tableau of horror.
But whether Salman Abedi acted alone or with accomplices remained a question that British investigators were urgently trying to answer Tuesday night as they reckoned with an attack more sophisticated and worrisome than any seen here in years.
The prospect of a wider plot, May said, was "a possibility we cannot ignore."
The killing of 22 people - many of them teens - following a concert in this northern English city by American pop star Ariana Grande was claimed Tuesday by the Islamic State, which said one of its "soldiers" was responsible.
Even as officials and experts cast doubt on the terrorist group's assertion, however, authorities were scrambling to execute searches, arrest potential accomplices and reinforce security systems at a spectrum of public events that look newly vulnerable to attacks like Monday's.
After years of successfully fending off more-sophisticated strikes even as countries across continental Europe have fallen victim to bombings, Monday night's carnage underscored that Britain is not immune amid a rising tide of extremist violence.
The highest priority for police, said Greater Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins, was to "establish whether [Abedi] was acting alone or as part of a network."
Earlier he had said that Abedi executed the bombing alone and that he "was carrying an improvised explosive device, which he detonated, causing this atrocity."
But unlike in previous high-profile attacks - including one in March in which an assailant driving a speeding car ran down pedestrians on a London bridge, then stabbed to death a British police officer - experts said it was unlikely that Monday's attack had been carried out without help.
"Getting a car or a knife is easy," said Raffaello Pantucci, a terrorism expert at the London-based Royal United Services Institute. "Making a bomb that works and goes off when you want it to go off takes preparation and practice. And it usually involves other people."
Pantucci said British authorities "are going to try to figure out who [Abedi] knows, who he's linked to. Did he build the bomb itself, or did someone build it and give it to him?"
If police have an answer, they did not say so publicly Tuesday. But there was ample evidence of a widening security operation, with the arrest of a 23-year-old from south Manchester in connection with the bombing. Police also carried out searches at two homes, including the house in the leafy suburban neighborhood where Abedi's was registered as having lived.
A senior European intelligence official said the attacker was a British citizen of Libyan descent. The official, who was not authorized to speak on the record and thus spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the suspect's brother has been taken into custody.
A family friend said Abedi traveled frequently between Libya and Britain. "We have an ISIS problem in Libya. We wonder whether he met people there who trained him," said the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ISIS is another name for the Islamic State.
Even before May's announcement of a "critical" threat level for just the third time ever - the first two came in 2006 and 2007 - authorities from London to Scotland said that they would be reviewing security plans for upcoming public events. Even smaller gatherings that would not have been policed in the past may now get protection, they said.
"Over the coming days as you go to a music venue, go shopping, travel to work or head off to the fantastic sporting events, you will see more officers, including armed officers," said Commander Jane Connors of London's Metropolitan Police Department.
May's decision to deploy the military means the public may now see soldiers rather than police. May said the military would operate under police command.
The escalation came as the nation grieved for the young victims, with thousands of people converging on Manchester's graceful Albert Square for a vigil that was part solemn remembrance and part rally against extremism.
To roaring applause, Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham vowed that the city - which has seen hardship, having been bombed relentlessly during World War II - would not succumb to division or anger. A poet named Tony Walsh delivered an ode to the city titled "This Is the Place." And in what has become a dark mainstay of life in Western Europe, passersby left candles, flowers and cards for the dead.
The casualties included children as young as elementary school students. Police said that among the 59 people injured, a dozen were younger than 16.
Among the dead was Saffie Rose Roussos, who was just 8 years old. The first victim to be publicly identified was Georgina Callander, an 18-year-old student.
Other names were expected to be released Wednesday, with authorities bracing the public for deaths among the teens and tweens who form the core of Grande's enthusiastic fan base.
The Islamic State did not give any details about the attacker or how the blast was carried out, raising doubts about the truth of its claim. Its statement was posted on the online messaging service Telegram and later noted by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant websites.
The Islamic State often quickly proclaims links to attacks, but some previous boasts have not been proved.
In Washington, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said Tuesday that despite the group's statement, "we have not verified yet the connection." He noted in a Senate hearing that "they claim responsibility for virtually every attack."
In a speech outside 10 Downing Street, where flags were lowered to half-staff, May called the Manchester killings a "callous terrorist attack."
"This attack stands out for its appalling, sickening cowardice deliberately targeting innocent, defenseless children and young people who should have been enjoying one of the most memorable nights of their lives," she said.
May later visited Manchester, meeting with local authorities and signing a condolence book honoring the victims.
Queen Elizabeth II, meanwhile, led guests of a garden party at Buckingham Palace in a moment of silence and issued a statement expressing her "deepest sympathies."
"The whole nation has been shocked by the death and injury in Manchester last night of so many people, adults and children, who had just been enjoying a concert," she said.
Across the world, other leaders expressed revulsion and scorn toward the bomber.
During a visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, President Donald Trump pledged "absolute solidarity" with Britain and called those responsible for the attack "evil losers in life."
Organizers of the Cannes Film Festival denounced the bombing as an "attack on culture, youth and joyfulness" and observed a minute of silence Tuesday. Cannes is 15 miles from Nice, where an attacker driving a truck plowed into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in July, killing 86 people.
The Monday night attack was the worst terrorist strike on British soil since 2005, when Islamist extremists bombed the London subway and a bus, killing 54 people.
And as with that attack, Monday's bombing prompted desperate searches for missing loved ones that continued through the night and into Tuesday.
Charlotte Campbell told the BBC that she was "phoning everybody," including hospitals, trying to locate her 15-year-old daughter, Olivia. She last spoke to her daughter Monday night while she was at the concert.
"She'd just seen the support act and said she was having an amazing time, and thanking me for letting her go," Campbell said in an emotional interview.
The attack occurred near one of the exits of the arena, in a public space connected to a bustling train station.
Jake Taylor, a former security guard at the arena, said its layout makes absolute safety impossible.
"You can't stop people from getting through the train station," Taylor said.
Mark Harrison, who accompanied his 12-year-old daughter to the concert from Cumbria in northern England, said there were no metal detectors or body checks at the arena's entrance, although bags were inspected and items such as water bottles had to be discarded.
"There was definitely a security presence, but anyone can come through the train station," said Harrison, 44.
In France, the scene of several terrorist attacks in recent years, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe called on people to be vigilant in the face of "a threat which is more present than ever before."
Britain's threat level had been classified as "severe" since the summer of 2014, meaning the chance of an attack at any given time was highly likely.
Pantucci, the security expert, said that authorities had disrupted several plots in recent months but that Monday's attack somehow slipped through. Understanding why, he said, will be crucial.
"They've been dealing with a very high threat tempo," he said. "But this is one they weren't able to stop."
Adam reported from London. Isaac Stanley-Becker, James McAuley and Rick Noack in Manchester; Paul Schemm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Devlin Barrett, Brian Murphy and Ellen Nakashima in Washington contributed to this report.
Video: An explosion at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, on May 22 left at least 22 people dead, according to police. (Victoria Walker,Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)
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WASHINGTON - The Trump administration, determined to overhaul and modernize the nation's infrastructure, is drafting plans to privatize some public assets such as airports, bridges, highway rest stops and other facilities, according to top officials and advisers.
In his proposed budget released Tuesday, President Donald Trump called for spending $200 billion over 10 years to "incentivize" private, state and local spending on infrastructure.
Trump advisers said that to entice state and local governments to sell some of their assets, the administration is considering paying them a bonus. The proceeds of the sales would then go to other infrastructure projects. Australia has pursued a similar policy, which it calls "asset recycling," prompting the 99-year lease of a state-owned electrical grid to pay for improvements to the Sydney Metro, among other projects.
In the United States, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) explored privatizing Midway International Airport several years ago but dropped the idea in 2013, after a key bidder backed away. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says such projects should be encouraged.
"You take the proceeds from the airport, from the sale of a government asset, and put it into financing infrastructure," Chao said. St. Louis is working with federal officials to try to privatize Lambert International Airport, she said.
Officials are crafting President Trump's initiative, and he has yet to decide which ideas will make the final cut. But two driving themes are clear: Government practices are stalling the nation's progress; and private companies should fund, build and run more of the basic infrastructure of American life.
A far-reaching proposal from the Trump administration earlier this year to take the nation's air-traffic control system out of government hands was fueled, in part, by frustration at sluggish efforts to modernize technology.
To speed up infrastructure projects, officials are preparing to overhaul the federal environmental review and permitting system, which they blame for costly delays. Trump asked advisers whether they could collapse that process, which he said takes at least 10 years, down to four months. "But we'll be satisfied with a year," Trump said. "It won't be more than a year."
In a bid for broader support, Trump and some of his advisers have also signaled an openness to raising the gas tax to pay for needed projects. The 18.4-cent-per gallon levy is the federal government's main source of highway funds and was last raised in 1993.
The infrastructure initiative is being shaped by White House officials and a task force representing 16 federal departments and agencies. In addition, there is a committee of outside advisers co-chaired by billionaire developer Richard LeFrak, a Trump friend.
LeFrak said the administration's effort, which is being led by Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, Chao and others, is a sweeping attempt to rethink how the nation's infrastructure gets built. LeFrak said the issues are intensely personal for Trump, who spent his career in real estate and sees this as an area where he can make a lasting impact.
"He does think he's the president to rebuild America. He's a builder. It's just logical," LeFrak said. "He's highly enthusiastic about this idea and getting it done."
Critics said Trump and his advisers are putting ideology ahead of the national interest, and oversimplifying how the process works.
Public stewards should not be "trying to figure out how to extract maximum value" by selling off government assets or "making huge, multibillion-dollar wagers" that span decades, said Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group. "Building infrastructure faster and without adequate study or time for community input may be good for developers, but it's lousy for everyone else."
Still, there are bipartisan concerns that important projects have been stymied by politics and bureaucracy, and that Washington has been unwilling to allocate the money for needed improvements. A civil engineering group in March tallied a "$2 trillion, 10-year investment gap" in the nation's roads, transit systems, bridges, water systems, power grids, parks, ports and schools.
In February, Trump told Congress he would seek legislation "that produces a $1 trillion investment" in infrastructure and creates "millions of new jobs." Officials have since said the plan will likely include $200 billion in direct federal funds, which would be used to "leverage" the larger figure over a decade. LeFrak sees the chance for a deal, noting that Sen. Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also "wants a trillion-dollar program."
"So you've already got two important people - one very, very important person and one very important person - both from different sides of the aisle, who come in favor of this," LeFrak said.
But on Tuesday when Trump's budget was released, Schumer condemned the president's "180-degree turn away from his repeated promise of a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan," saying it contains deep cuts in spending on roads, transit projects, public housing and more.
"The fuzzy math and sleight of hand can't hide the fact that the President's $200 billion plan is more than wiped out by other cuts to key infrastructure programs," Schumer said in a statement.
Trump administration officials disputed Schumer's calculations, saying they included budget items that should not be considered cuts. They cited a projected "drop-off" in federal highway funds that could be eliminated as part of the broader infrastructure agreement.
The budget places a heavy emphasis on market solutions, such as making it easier for states to toll interstates, saying that the federal government has become "a complicated, costly middleman." The budget also talks about leasing vacant space in Veterans Affairs hospitals and selling off major power facilities as ways of "disposing underused capital assets."
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At a recent White House event, Trump stood alongside one of his top infrastructure aides, DJ Gribbin, who held up a 7-foot-long flow chart illustrating the highway permitting process. The colorful boxes and baffling array of crisscrossing lines were meant to drive home a point about regulatory overreach.
The chart also could have been a graphic representation of the difficulty of crafting a $1 trillion package capable of making it through Congress at a time beset with political division.
Democrats, including Schumer, and some Republicans favor a heavy reliance on federal spending, while others in the GOP want to cut that spending and push more responsibility onto states. Agreeing on ways to better manage arcane state and federal regulations would be tough in even the most forgiving of climates.
Add in the priorities of numerous government agencies, and the puzzle becomes even more complex.
"This is a democracy," Chao said. "They're not easy questions."
So Chao and others crafting the president's plan have cut the problem into smaller, more digestible pieces: regulation and permitting; government procurement, which Trump officials say is too clunky and doesn't make enough use of private options; government revenue and private capital; and lessons from abroad.
They also are trying to account for dizzying technological advances. How do you plan for a 10-year broadband expansion, for example, when the technology could easily shift in five years? Chao asked.
LeFrak, who co-chairs the advisory committee with another Trump friend, Vornado Realty Trust chairman Steven Roth, said they have also been wrestling with another challenge,the controversy over high-speed rail, "which is one of the things people dream about."
But he has seen studies showing a much lower per-mile cost for using driverless cars instead. So should the government invest in rail, which takes passengers station to station or "some kind of road network which is going to allow these cars to travel at relatively high speeds" and take a passenger door to door? he asked.
The administration's focus on shortening the environmental review process has concerned environmental groups that point to Trump's moves to reverse efforts to fight climate change.
Trump's advisers say it's possible to speed up projects that have clear support and a good business case - while also doing more to protect the environment. But Trump's push for strict new deadlines would require major changes to environmental laws, which would face fierce opposition.
"There's no reason why the U.S. cannot function as efficiently as other Western-style democracies in getting worthy projects through the system and permitted," LeFrak said. "The math speaks for itself. What we're doing in six years, seven years, eight years, 10 years, these other countries get done in a year or two."
DeGood said Trump's team is relying on exaggerated figures and playing down recent reforms to speed approvals. Administration officials cited a report saying it took the Federal Highway Administration more than six years to approve major environmental reviews for projects that need them. While that was true in 2011, DeGood said, that figure has since dropped to 3.6 years.
Chao said things still move too slowly, and many permitting processes can be done simultaneously rather than sequentially. Officials will cut "duplicative or wasteful steps," she said.
"If we can make these construction projects come online faster without compromising the environmental concerns, it's good for the quality of life of a community. . . . It helps people. It creates more jobs. It creates less congestion," Chao said. And faster approvals create less-risky, more attractive opportunities to invest in America. "What I heard from the private sector is there's lots of money available, but there are not enough projects."
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The administration plans to push states to use public-private partnerships - P3s in industry jargon.
In such arrangements, a private firm might bring together investors and low-cost federal loans to expand a highway, for example, then collect tolls from motorists to recoup costs and earn a profit. Companies can more nimbly tap technology and other innovations in building and maintaining such projects, advocates say. Critics say relying on tolls will not work in rural or distressed communities.
Some of those partnerships have worked as intended, such as the Washington region's Interstate 495 Express Lanes, where 14 miles of toll and carpool lanes opened in 2012. Although the tolls are unpopular, the partnership gave drivers more options for faster travel. Maryland's proposed Purple Line light-rail system also would be built with a public-private partnership.
Other such arrangements have failed, with ill-prepared governments saddling themselves with bad deals. Chicago's inspector general cited the 75-year lease of city parking meters to a private firm for $1.16 billion in 2008. Under the same terms, the city would have earned at least $974 million more by keeping the meters, the IG said.
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Australia, which has long advocated privatization, launched its "asset recycling initiative" in 2014. Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, said officials are looking at importing the idea.
"Instead of people in cities and states and municipalities coming to us and saying, 'Please give us money to build a project,' and not knowing if it will get maintained, and not knowing if it will get built, we say, 'Hey, take a project you have right now, sell it off, privatize it, we know it will get maintained, and we'll reward you for privatizing it,' " Cohn told executives at the White House. "The bigger the thing you privatize, the more money we'll give you."
So far, one Australian state and two territories have chosen public resources to sell off. The central government kicks in 15 percent of the value of what's sold.
The Australian treasury said the central government has reached agreements to pay out $1.7 billion in "incentive payments" that will "unlock" $12.6 billion in spending, including for a light-rail line in Canberra. For that project, the Australian Capital Territory sold public housing projects, a tourism information center and a public gambling operation, according to government documents.
Some critics called the moves shortsighted.
"You can't perform that deal again," said John Quiggin, a professor of economics at the University of Queensland.
The program has at times been a lightning rod, as when the Northern Territory government leased the Port of Darwin to a Chinese-owned firm for 99 years, sparking a debate over national security.
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That still leaves the question: How do you get to $1 trillion?
"Everything's on the table," Chao said.
Administration officials are putting together a menu of options to hit that total, including big-ticket possibilities like "repatriating" funds parked overseas by U.S. firms, and smaller ideas such as privatizing highway service plazas, Chao said.
Chao said congressional leaders - she is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., - have made clear "the administration has to have a bill with pay-fors before they will accept it. So we understand that."
LeFrak says there is money lying around in government assets that can be privatized and that people can get "socialized" to paying tolls.He said uncollected Internet sales taxes could go to states to help pay the infrastructure bill. He also thinks Washington should borrow large sums at today's low interest rates.
LeFrak also noted that the federal gas tax hasn't been raised in nearly a quarter-century, and that more than 20 states have raised or indexed their gas taxes since 2013. For federal officials, that presents "a test in political courage," LeFrak said.
"I've come to the conclusion that the wish of everybody is we have divine intervention, that somehow a bridge gets floated down from on high. People say, 'Wow, we got a free bridge!' " LeFrak said. "But the answer is, it's an expensive investment."