A man detained after a multiple stabbing at the Arndale shopping centre in Manchester has been formally arrested on suspicion of planning an act of terrorism, police have said.
Three people were stabbed and another suffered a superficial wound when a man ran amok with a large knife shortly after 11am on Friday. A fifth person was treated at the scene for shock.
Greater Manchester police’s assistant chief constable, Russ Jackson, said two unarmed police community support officers had attempted to confront the attacker when he turned on them and chased them with the knife.
Jackson said the man, who is believed to be British and from the Manchester area, attacked people around him as armed officers raced to the scene. Jackson said the man was initially detained on suspicion of serious assaults before later being arrested on suspicion of commission, preparation and instigation of an act of terrorism.
He added: “We do not know the motivation for this terrible attack. It appears random, is certainly brutal and of course extremely frightening for anyone who witnessed it.”
Jackson said the incident was “bound to bring back memories of the awful events of 2017” when a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured hundreds more at Manchester Arena on 22 May 2017.
He said: “At this time we do not believe that there is anyone else involved in this attack but we will be constantly keeping this under review. We have specially trained officers supporting those injured from the attack.
“We’ll have increased patrols, including armed patrols, in the city centre this weekend. This is to reassure people, but we do not believe there is a wider threat at this time and we are hoping to return the city to normality by tomorrow morning.”
Three people – a 19-year-old woman, a second woman and a man in his 50s – were taken to hospital for stab wounds but their injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.
MI5, the domestic security service that leads on counterterrorism investigations, was also monitoring events in Manchester following the stabbings.
Video footage and photographs showed armed police officers deployed around the Exchange Square side of the shopping centre. One clip showed officers using a Taser and holding a man to the ground before arresting him.
In other video and pictures posted on Twitter, a large number of emergency service vehicles were seen arriving at the centre.
Footage showed people being taken away on stretchers, and members of the public were asked to stay away from the shopping centre.
Armed police officers wearing face coverings were stationed outside the shopping centre as a long queue of ambulances arrived and a police helicopter hovered overhead. Plainclothes detectives arrived at the scene while uniformed officers told people the Arndale would be closed for some time.
Bernadette Westhall, 55, said she saw people “running for their lives” and screaming as the attack unfolded.
Westhall was in the toilets on the ground floor near a Starbucks cafe when she heard a commotion. “I was coming out of there and everybody was just screaming and running for their lives. I ran straight into a shop and stayed in there until the coast was clear. It was a lady that he attacked.”
A witness who took video footage of a man being Tasered outside the shopping centre said the suspect was “screaming”.
John Greenhalgh, 30, was travelling on a tram when it stopped suddenly. “You could tell it was something quite serious – there were a lot of armed police. They were there very quickly.
“The tram was evacuated and we were put in the back of a van. We weren’t told what was happening,” he said. “There was a guy sitting on the floor screaming.”
A shop worker, who gave his name as Jordan, told the PA Media news agency: “A man was running around with a knife lunging at multiple people, one of which came into my store shaken with a small graze. Soon after, security staff told all retail staff to close their doors and move the public to the back of the stores.”
Jordan, 23, who has been working at the centre for only a few months, said the attack took place on the ground floor.
Freddie Houlder, 22, from Market Drayton, was also in the centre when he heard “a load of screams just outside” the shop he was in. He said a woman came inside and told others: “A guy just ran past the shop and tried to stab me.”
He added: “Luckily she had quite a thick jacket. She thought originally it was a fake knife because of how easily it grazed off, but police came in and said it was a real knife and she burst into tears.” He said he was evacuated several minutes later.
In response to the incident, Boris Johnson tweeted: “Shocked by the incident in Manchester and my thoughts are with the injured and all those affected. Thank you to our excellent emergency services who responded and who are now investigating what happened.”
Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, tweeted: “Shocked and saddened to hear about the events that have taken place at the Arndale centre in Manchester. I will remain closely informed and updated on the situation.”
The UK’s threat level is severe, meaning an attack is highly likely. In recent days, there have been suspected terrorist attacks in France and Germany, but other incidents in the UK suggest motives can be hard to determine in the immediate aftermath.
Placing the north-west counter-terrorism unit in charge of the investigation of the Manchester stabbings is a precaution at this stage. Rapid inquiries into the person in custody will determine whether it stays in the lead, or whether the incident passes back to regular police.