The security services have investigated 15,000 people as they seek to protect Britain from a massive terror threat, a minister revealed today. Security minister Ben Wallace admitted there were valid questions about whether MI5 or the police could have done more to stop suicide bomber Salman Abedi1 from carrying out the Manchester atrocity. However, he insisted there was no failure by the security services and denied they lacked resources despite the number of police officers being cut by thousands . At least one leading expert has challenged this view.
Mr Wallace also accused Jeremy Corbyn of crassly timed comments after the Labour leader used a speech today to link Britain s foreign policy with terrorist attacks in the UK. Speaking in central London, Mr Corbyn argued: We must be brave enough to admit the War on Terror is simply not working . We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism. However, Mr Wallace said: Now is not the time to decide to use this event to attack foreign policy decisions .
He insisted that Islamist extremists were launching terror strikes because they hate what we stand for, they hate our society . Up to 500 investigations are being carried out by the security services into around 3,000 individuals. Ben Wallace admitted there were valid questions about whether MI5 or the police could have done more to stop suicide bomber Salman Abedi (PA)
Below the 3,000 is another 12,000 people who have in the past come to our attention and who have not necessarily shown signs of doing anything at all or no longer posing a risk, Mr Wallace told BBC radio.
He rejected criticism from Labour and some police figures that cutting officer numbers by 19,000 was making the UK less safe, and said funding for the security and intelligence services had been increased by 20 per cent to 15.2 billion. Police and security chiefs have been accused of missing chances to stop Abedi, amid claims he was reported several times to the authorities. Professor Michael Clarke, who was director general of the Royal United Services Institute until 2015, said most terrorism could not be prevented, but added: In this case there is a lot of evidence that Abedi and his family and friends were well known to different parts of the security services and police networks and there was a failure to join the dots.
Mr Wallace also signalled new laws to force internet and social media companies such as Facebook and YouTube to swiftly take down material that could encourage terrorism. At a G7 meeting in Sicily, Italy, Theresa May was due to say: The fight is moving from the battlefield to the internet . Corporations can do more.
Indeed, they have a social responsibility to now step up their efforts to remove harmful content from their networks.
Police and security services have found bomb-making materials which could be primed for imminent attacks in the extensive raids following the Manchester suicide bombing, The Independent has learned. One suspect device was blown up in a controlled explosion and security sources say that there is a real possibility that there are other materials yet to be found . The law agencies are convinced that a terrorist network had been established to carry out a sustained assault and further arrests are likely in and outside Manchester. Meanwhile family members of the Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi have been arrested in Libya and the UK . The bomber s father, Ramadan Abedi, was taken away in Tripoli by masked gunmen from a government militia as he was giving a television interview declaring that his dead son was innocent .
Another son living in the city with him, Hashem, was detained soon afterwards, with Libyan officials officials stating that he had links with Isis . Salman Abedi s mother, Samia Tabbal, and another son, Ismail, have been arrested in Manchester. Three arrests were made on Tuesday night, and a further three arrests followed on Wednesday of a man in Wigan, a man in Nuneaton and a woman in Blackley, north Manchester. The focus is now very much on the Libyan connection . Abedi s father was a fighter with an Islamist group banned by the UN s Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee after the 9/11 attacks in New York. The Independent has learned he once worked for the Gaddafi regime s security apparatus before turning towards hardline Islam: one of his associates once ran a group called the Islamic Martyrs Movement.
The Abedi elder, also known as Abu Ismail al-Obaidi, was a long-term member of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group (LIFG), which had forged links with al-Qaeda during the war against the Russians in Afghanistan . He left Manchester to take part in the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and currently works with a militia, the Nawasi Brigade, in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Abedi had joined LIFG when it was run by Abdelhakim Belhaj who now heads a political party, Al Watan, in Libya and is taking legal action against the British government for the “rendition”of him and his wife to the Libyan regime in which MI6 played a part . This was at a time when Muammar Gaddafi was being presented by the UK as a valued ally and feted by prime minister Tony Blair.
Abedi claimed today his son had nothing to do with the murders of 22 people at the Ariana Grande concert. “We don t believe in killing innocents . This is not us,” he insisted . His son, he claimed, was preparing to go to Saudi Arabia before spending the month of Ramadan with the rest of the family in Libya. The police and security agencies had managed to establish Abedi s identity quickly after finding his bank card at the scene of the attack . It has also emerged that a member of the family, as yet unnamed, had contacted the police after being alarmed by Abedi s increasingly aggressive Islamist statements.
The developments came on a day when authorities scrambled to piece together the events that led to Monday night’s atrocity in Manchester:
– Police arrested six people in the UK in connection with Monday night’s attack after discovering evidence of a wider terrorist cell functioning in the city
– Crime scene photos of shrapnel, a battery pack and the detonator used in the attack were published by The New York Times in a suspected intelligence leak, condemned by UK officials
– 1,000 armed soldiers were deployed to key sites across the country, including Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament
– Police confirmed they had identified the 22 who died, including a serving off-duty police officer from Cheshire Constabulary
Abedi had been to Libya several times . His last visit, according to his father, was six weeks ago . The French foreign minister, Gerard Collomb, claimed today that the British security agencies believe he went on to Syria from Libya . But a senior security source said: “We think he got a few things garbled there, we know that Abedi had gone to Libya, whether he went to Syria or not remains a line of inquiry.”
Abedi s behaviour changed after he returned from his last Libyan visit, according to neighbours and friends with espousal of hardline Islam . It is at this time, it is believed, that one of the calls to the police was made by a member of the extended family. His father’s path to militancy began when he fell out with Gaddafi regime. The Independent has learned that in 1991 he left Libya for Saudi Arabia where he began to attend sermons by Salafist preachers .
It was a time when Saudi Arabia was funding, with the US and UK, the mujaheddin war against the Russians in Afghanistan and at a time when LIFG built connections with al-Qaeda . There is no evidence that Abedi had fought in Afghanistan or had links with al-Qaeda. Abedi left Saudi Arabia for Britain in 1992 with his wife . They lived in London before joining the Libyan community in Manchester, the largest in the UK where they started their family . He returned to Libya in 2008 under a reconciliation programme started by the Gaddafi regime . This involved him, and others taking part, to renounce extremism and violence.
Three years later Abedi was back in Libya in the uprising against Col Gaddafi . The regime fell after months of Nato bombing instigated by Britain and France . In the chaotic aftermath which followed extremist groups, including Isis, moved in . Conditions became ripe for exporting jihad to the UK.
Music fans have criticised security at the Manchester Arena following an explosion killed at least 22 people and injured dozens more. Ariana Grande fans were making their way out of the venue after the concert when a lone male suicide bomber detonated a blast at around 10.30pm, police have said. Witnesses described seeing smoke and smelling burning in the foyer area of the arena, while others reported glass, metal nuts and nails on the floor.
Thousands of people were forced to flee the arena after the blast was triggered.
Since the attack, fans have been tweeting about the security at the venue, with some claiming that it was possible for anyone to “walk in with things under a coat”, and others saying their bags were not checked. A Czech woman who was at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester says that there was almost no security check, rather zero . They let us get in without any check if we have anything with us. Nikola Trochtova told the Czech public radio that the only thing they were interested in was if we had any bottles of water with us . They almost didn’t check our bags, they didn’t take a look”, AP reports.
She says she was leaving the venue when she heard an explosion at the entrance, but only learned about what had happened after returning to her hotel. One woman tweeted: “The last 3 times I’ve seen a show at Manchester Arena they didn’t check my bag even though I had a backpack on.”
“For One Direction, they just kind of jiggled my bag, ‘feeling’ if there was anything harmful . Had a 1L bottle of Lucozade, didn’t open my bag.
“Didn’t even check my bag at all for Little Mix nor 5SOS, despite my bag being full and quite heavy.”
Another person wrote: “Being there at the concert in Manchester, I’m not surprised someone was able to take something into the arena . Security was horrendous.
“Only a bag check, no metal scanners or pat downs for anyone entering through the Manchester Victoria entrance of the arena.”
The Victoria entrance was where the blast occurred, in the foyer area between the arena and Victoria station next door to the venue . It is unclear whether security were present in that area of the venue.
The Independent has contacted Manchester Arena and ShowSec, a security company listed as an official supplier of the venue on its website, for comment