MI5 ‘too slow’ over Manchester bomber

Salman Abedi

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Salman Abedi killed 22 people in the bombing at Manchester Arena in May 2017

MI5 admits for the first time that it made a mistake in failing to track the 2017 Manchester bomber, MPs have said.

A report by the Intelligence and Security Committee said MI5 had recognised it had moved “too slowly” to establish how dangerous Salman Abedi, 22, really was.

The security service had cause to monitor Abedi’s return to the UK from Libya days before the attack on Manchester Arena, the report said.

Twenty-two people died in the attack.

In wide-ranging criticisms, the committee said the government had also failed to fully learn lessons from attacks dating back 13 years.

Abedi is believed to have been taught bomb-making while in Libya, before returning to Manchester in May last year to construct his device.

He walked into the Manchester Arena, where thousands had been watching US singer Ariana Grande perform, and blew himself up.

A previous report into the attack revealed that MI5 had planned to review the risks posed by Abedi – but the meeting was not scheduled to take place before the attack occurred.

In its findings, the ISC said there had been “no follow-up action” after Abedi visited a jailed terrorist organiser from Manchester.

Furthermore, MI5 could have put a plan in place to monitor Abedi’s movements, which would have revealed his return to the UK from Libya, days before he struck.

“MI5 have since admitted that given the information they had on Abedi, they should have done so,” said the committee.

“Abedi had been flagged for review but MI5’s systems moved too slowly.”

The committee said one failing it had identified was so sensitive, it could not be shared publicly.

But it added: “What we can say is that there were a number of a failings in the handling of Salman Abedi’s case.

“While it is impossible to say whether these would have prevented the devastating attack on 22 May, we have concluded that as a result of the failings, potential opportunities to prevent it were missed.”

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Manchester was a city in mourning after the attack

In their highly-critical report, MPs and peers on the committee also found:

  • Measures to control access to chemicals needed for bomb-making were “hopelessly out of date”
  • Communication companies were still failing to meet their social duties to detect terror planning online – and it recommended putting pressure on them by targeting their profits
  • There had also been “fundamental failings” by the Home Office, police and Surrey County Council over their handling of the teenager who placed a bomb on the London Underground in September 2017
  • MI5 should rethink how it “joins the dots” on some suspects because it had failed to appreciate the potential dangers posed by Khalid Masood, the Westminster Bridge attacker, despite a trail of evidence over six years

The committee also attacked the Home Office for failing to properly co-operate over its attempts to investigate how the Parsons Green attacker, Ahmed Hassan, went undetected.

It had made “multiple attempts” to extract the “full evidence” from the Home Office – but the information had not been provided in time.

“This is unacceptable,” said the committee. “From what we have seen to date there were fundamental failings in the handling of this case by the Home Office, the police and Surrey County Council.

“This litany of errors will require a separate comprehensive review to which the Home Office must be directly answerable.”

‘Impressive’ determination

The committee said that despite these concerns about government, it recognised that MI5 and the police had taken the mistakes seriously.

“We note that both MI5 and counter-terrorism policing have been thorough in their desire to learn from past mistakes,” it said.

“We also know and acknowledge the determination with which they approach their work, which we regard as impressive.

“However, it has been striking how many of the issues which arose in relation to the 2017 terrorist attacks have been previously raised by this committee in our reports on the 7/7 attacks [in 2005] and on the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby [in 2013].

“We have previously made recommendations in all these areas yet the government failed to act on them. The lessons of last year’s tragic events must now result in real action.”

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We have updated our counter-terrorism strategy, introduced new legislation to allow threats to be disrupted earlier and have increased information-sharing with local authorities.

“We are also ensuring technology companies play their part by stopping terrorists from exploiting their platforms,” he added.

Scotland Yard said the police and MI5 have foiled 13 plots since the Westminster attack in March 2017.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the head of counter-terrorism policing, said: “We will not let the terrorists who carried out these appalling attacks to succeed in scaring and dividing us.”

The Met was, he said, doing more now to improve the handling and assessment of intelligence and making better use of data.

It is currently handling more than 700 live investigations, involving 3,000 people posing the biggest threat and another 20,000 who are also considered a concern.

Terror attacks in 2017

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22 March: Khalid Masood runs down and kills four people on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a policeman to death outside Parliament.

22 May: Salman Abedi, 22, detonates a home-made bomb in Manchester Arena’s foyer blowing crowds off their feet as they leave an Ariana Grande concert. Twenty-two people die and more than 800 are injured.

3 June: Eight people are killed when three attackers drive a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and launch a knife attack in Borough Market.

19 June: Darren Osborne drives a van into worshippers near Finsbury Park Mosque, killing one man and injuring nine others.

15 September: Ahmed Hassan, 18, plants a home-made bomb on a Tube train at Parsons Green, which injures 51 people when it partially explodes.


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