LONDON - Like last year on May 22 bells will toll across the northern English city of Manchester to mark the anniversary — this time the second— of the suicide bombing of the Manchester Arena that left 23 concert-goers dead, including the attacker, and 139 wounded, more than half of them children.
Many of the survivors and relatives of the dead say they remain unable two shake off the terrors of the blast and loss of loved ones. Many of the physically wounded still struggle to overcome injuries and disabilities.
Several hundred of the concert-goers at the arena, there to listen to American singer Ariana Grande, are still grappling with the effects of psychological trauma of the deadliest terrorist attack, and the first suicide bombing in Britain since the 7 July 2005 London bombings.
The parents of eight-year-old Saffie Roussos, the youngest of those killed, say they remain stuck in 2017 when radical Islamist Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old local man of Libyan descent, detonated a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb that shred bodies and lives. He is thought to have trained for the attack in Libya.
"Saffie had got hold of my hand, and she was pulling me, jumping about," Lisa Roussos told the BBC on the eve of the anniversary.
"And the next minute I just hit the floor with a thud," she added. She couldn't move, but she could blink and willed herself to keep her eyes open. Lisa Roussos was gravely injured and had to relearn to walk. She was in a coma for six weeks and only learned about her daughter's death after she woke up.
Two years on Saffie's parents say the bombing remains raw. The time makes no difference, the parents said. "I feel like we're stuck in 2017," said little girl's father, Andrew Roussos.
In a statement marking the anniversary, Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said the city "will never forget the terrible events of May 22, 2017, nor the remarkable display of unity and love which followed. Those who were killed and their loved ones, as well as all those left physically or mentally injured, have a place in our hearts."
Despite the territorial defeat of the Islamic State group, the danger of radical Islamist terrorism remains far from over, say counter-terror experts. More than 500 incarcerated Islamist militants are due to be freed in Europe over the next two years, according to Olivier Guitta, head of the geopolitical risk company GlobalStrat.
Guitta, who contributed to a report released Wednesday by GlobSec, a think tank, on the criminal ties of many of Europe's Islamist militants, says European governments need to consider lengthening jail terms for those convicted of terror offenses and not granting early release for good behavior.
While the security services are doing a "good job at honing down on the potential terrorists, he says in a conclusion to the report, "the sheer number of people, up to 30,000, recorded on Britain's main terror watchlist including 3,000 branded as dangerous, make it impossible for security services to monitor even a fraction of that, knowing that about 30 officers are needed per individual."
He adds: "Due to early releases from prisons and generally short sentences, the situation is even more problematic and will allow 500 dangerous jihadists to be freed in the next two years in Europe."
According to the report, most of the Islamist militants who've carried out attacks in Britain in the past six years were already on terror watch lists, and more than half of British militants arrested for terrorist offenses were under surveillance prior to their detention.
Like most of jihadists who carried out attacks on European soil, Manchester bomber Abedi was "on the radar of security services and was at one point actually monitored until the investigation was dropped off because nothing happened," says Guitta.
Many of the relatives of the dead attending services in Manchester Wednesday say the government needs to mandate tougher security checks at large public events.
Earlier this week, Britain's interior minister Sajid Javid announced plans to update the country's treason laws to cover terrorists. British-born jihadis returning from the battlefields of the Middle East would be open to prosecution under the planned updated law, say officials.
Calls for an updated treason law increased have increased after officials said they were abandoning efforts to prosecute two alleged members of the Islamic State so-called "Beatles" cell, a quartet of Britons responsible for torturing and beheading Western hostages in Syria, including American journalist James Foley.
A paper drawn up by the Policy Exchange think-tank last year suggested defining treason as "aiding a hostile state of organization."The paper set out a series of actions that could be deemed treason, including helping prepare or commit an attack in Britain, aiding the military or intelligence operations of a state or organization intending to attack Britain or "prejudicing the security and defense of the UK".