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Security services missed chances to bring in Arena bomber in months before attack, report finds

Security services missed a string of chances to bring in Salman Abedi in the months prior to the Manchester bombing, it has emerged. But he struck just days before a scheduled intelligence meeting about his activities was due to take place. An independent review into the attack concluded it is conceivable the atrocity could have been averted if the cards had fallen differently . Despite this, MI5 maintain it is ‘unlikely’ the plot could have been stopped.

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Compiled by David Anderson QC, the report brings together the results of eight internal reviews by MI5 and the police, following the wave of attacks between March and June which included the Manchester bomb. The document lays bare how in the months and weeks before the attack there were a series of missed opportunities to confront Abedi – who had been on security services radar for THREE years and suspected of links to ISIS for at least two.

We now know that MI5 received intelligence about Abedi that has turned out to be significant – but wasn t thought to be at the time . As a result, he was not under investigation at the time of the attack – and he remained a closed subject of interest . We now know he could have been placed on ports action after he travelled to Libya in April 2017 – a step which would have triggered an alert when he came to Manchester .

This would have allowed him to be questioned and searched at the airport under the Terrorism Act.

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Abedi was not placed on ports action however – and killed 22 people, injuring hundreds of others, at a Manchester Arena concert shortly after returning to the city from Libya. Describing this, the report says an opportunity was missed by MI5 to place Salman Abedi on ports action . The report says that on two occasions in 2017 MI5 came by intelligence which had its true significance been properly understood would have triggered an investigation into Abedi.

While the significance of intelligence was not fully appreciated at the time , the review concludes in retrospect , it can be seen to have been highly relevant to the planned attack . A subsequent data review of intelligence about 20,000 people identified Abedi as among a small number of people worth further examination – but Abedi struck nine days before a meeting was due to be held about this.

A meeting (arranged before the attack) was due to take place on 31 May 2017: Salman Abedi s case would have been considered, together with the others identified . The attack intervened on 22 May, it states.

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Despite these findings, the report says that it is unknowable whether an investigation would have pre-empted and thwarted Abedi s attack, adding: MI5 assesses it would not. Describing MI5 s conclusions, the author says after detailed consideration of their intelligence – the intelligence whose true significance was not appreciated – it is unlikely Abedi would have been stopped.

The report reveals for the first time that Abedi had been on security services radar for three years. In 2014 he was actively investigated by MI5 – for six months – when it was thought he might have been acting suspiciously with a second subject of interest . However, because of his limited engagement with persons of national security concern , he was classed as low risk.

The following year – in October 2015 – his case was reopened because he was suspected of contact with an Islamic State figure in Libya . The case was closed the same day when it transpired any contact had not been direct.

Read the report in full below – if you can’t view it, you can also read or download the PDF here1 :

Despite this, the decision not to re-open the investigation into Abedi in 2017, following the new intelligence, was described in the report as finely-balanced and understandable .

There is a high degree of inherent uncertainty in speculating as to what might or might not have been discovered if an investigation had been opened on the basis of the new intelligence , MI5 s internal review, detailed in the report, concluded. MI5 s review also concluded: On the clear balance of professional opinion, successful pre-emption of the gathering plot would have been unlikely.

The review – ordered by government several weeks after the May 22 attack – looked at what the intelligence services knew ahead of the Manchester bombing, as well as the earlier one at Westminster, and the ones at London Bridge and Finsbury Park in the weeks afterwards. While complimentary of both intelligence and counter-terror services in many respects, the report does suggest that Manchester s attack in particular could potentially have been averted.

It is not the purpose of the internal reviews, or of this report, to cast or apportion blame, it adds.

But though investigative actions were for the most part sound, many learning points have emerged .

It is conceivable that the Manchester attack in particular might have been averted had the cards fallen differently.

References

  1. ^ read or download the PDF here (www.gov.uk)

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