Birmingham          -       One man was killed and two people were critically injured during a “random” stabbing attack lasting several hours in Britain’s second city of Birmingham, police said on Sunday. Detectives said they were hunting one suspect after being called to reports of stabbings at four separate locations in the city center between 12:30 am (2330 GMT Saturday) and 2:30 am.

But they ruled out hate crime, gang violence and terrorism.  “It does appear to be random in terms of the people that were attacked,” said Chief Superintendent Steve Graham of West Midlands Police, adding that it was being treated as homicide. Britain has been on high alert after two mass stabbings in London in the last year, which saw both perpetrators -- convicted Islamic extremists released early from prison -- shot dead by armed officers.

In June, a man was charged with murder after three people were killed in a park in Reading, west of London, in an attack investigated by counter-terrorism police. Six people were then injured, including a police officer, at a hotel housing asylum seekers in the Scottish city of Glasgow. Armed police shot dead the suspected attacker. The latest incident comes amid concern about levels of knife crime in Britain, particularly in the capital, London.

The number of stabbings in England and Wales increased six percent in the year to the end of March, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Birmingham is one of Britain’s most ethnically diverse cities with a population of more than one million, and has had an explosive recent history of gang violence. In January 2003, one gang opened fire with an illegal semi-automatic sub-machine gun at a rival group. Two teenage girls who were bystanders were killed in the hail of bullets.