WASHINGTON – The United States' top intelligence official says the U.S. government has not yet verified that the Islamic State group is responsible for the attack in Manchester, England, but called the deadly incident a stark reminder of how serious the terror threat remains.
"So it once again reminds us that this threat is real, it is not going away, and needs significant attention to do everything we can to protect our people from these kinds of attacks," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Coats said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber.
"Initial reports that we have received are that this was indeed a suicide attack," Coats said. "Whether there were others implicated in that is under assessment."
Coats appeared before the panel following a suicide attack at an Ariana Grande show in England that left 22 people dead and dozens more wounded. The Islamic State claimed it was behind the attack. The Islamic State group said one of its members planted bombs in crowds at the concert. The group warned in a statement posted on social media that more attacks are to come.
Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana, told the panel that the extremist group frequently claims responsibility for violent attacks. He said he had just returned from a trip to London where he met with his counterparts in the British intelligence community. Coats said their gravest concern that the potential for attacks carried out by "inspired or homegrown" extremists, which are much more difficult to detect and prevent.
"I might mention that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack in Manchester," Coats said. "Although they claim responsibility for virtually every attack, we have not verified yet the connection."
Two U.S. officials told The Associated Press that British authorities have identified the suspect as Salman Abedi. A European security official told the AP he was British. All three spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
Coats' testimony comes amid ongoing investigations into allegations that Russia tried to interfere in last year's election. Coats refused to comment on a news report that President Donald Trump asked him to publicly deny any collusion between his campaign and Russia.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the committee's chairman, asked Coats about The Washington Post report Monday that said Trump asked Coats and Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to push back against an FBI investigation that's been examining potential coordination between Moscow and the presidential campaign.
Coats did not deny the report but said he didn't want to characterize or comment any private conversations with the president. "I have always believed that given the nature of my position and the information in which we share is not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that," he said.
Coats also said he had no documents about such a call. He was asked by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., if he had such material that could be provided to Robert Mueller, the special counsel named by the Justice Department to oversee the investigation.
Coats also declined to say whether he had discussed Trump's alleged request with Rogers. He paused for several seconds after Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked him if he had spoken to Rogers.
"Have you talked about this issue with Adm. Rogers?" asked Blumenthal. Coats paused for several seconds before saying, "That is something that I would like to withhold, that question at this particular point in time."
Blumenthal said he would assume from Coats' response that the "implicit answer is that, 'Yes you have.'" Blumenthal said he would like to know, perhaps at another time, what the substance of that conversation was.
Prompted by McCain, Coats said leaks of national security information can be "devastating" and put the lives of American spies and military personnel at risk.
"The release of information not only undermines confidence in our allies about our ability to maintain secure information that we share with them, it jeopardizes sources and methods that are invaluable to our ability to find out what's going on and what those threats are," he said.
Coats also told the committee he has not discussed with Trump the president's May 10 meeting with senior Russian diplomats during which Trump disclosed top secret information about an Islamic State threat. Coats said he "wasn't in the room and I don't know what the president shared." Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said he found Coats' response troubling.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
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