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Manchester concert attack

Britain’s MI5 investigates how it missed warnings about Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 May, 2017, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 May, 2017, 10:38pm

British domestic security service MI5 has launched two urgent inquiries into how it missed the danger posed by Manchester bomber Salman Abedi amid claims his interest in being a potential terrorist killer was repeatedly reported to the authorities.

One review began last week to quickly identify any glaring errors, while the other will be more in-depth, sources said.

On Sunday, the home secretary, Amber Rudd, refused to comment on whether opportunities were missed to spot the murderous intent of the 22-year-old before last week’s deadly attack, as national security became the major issue in the general election campaign.

The reviews come with security officials warning that the threat from Islamist terrorism keeps rising and is at an “unprecedented scale”, with other attack plots feared.

Investigators believe Abedi, whose parents come from Libya, may have received terrorist training in the country, where some areas are believed to be a safe haven for jihadis. He returned to the UK from Libya just days before exploding a homemade bomb packed with metal bolts and screws and carried in a rucksack, murdering 22 people after the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena on May 22.

Teachers and religious figures in Manchester who knew Abedi raised concerns about his extremist views on multiple occasions and over several years.

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MI5 is believed to have conducted a quick review of the intelligence held about Abedi last week, but the inquiry was limited as the agency’s focus and resources were poured into the manhunt and recovering the materials linked to the bomb.

The second review will be more detailed and look at the decision-making around Abedi before his attack. A source said the key question, given what is now evident about the danger Abedi posed, would be: “Would different decisions be made?”

The longer review will look at the processes and systems used to assess suspects and what was known about any of the other main conspirators. The system of assessing and managing risk used by MI5 is coming under immense strain, given the service’s unrelenting and rising workload.

Abedi had been examined by security service case officers in the past, but by last Monday was one of a pool of 20,000 one-time Islamist jihadi suspects. He was not one of the 3,000 people under active investigation.

MI5 says it has to prioritise which suspects it devotes limited investigative resources to according to which are deemed most dangerous. Rudd, speaking on the BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, said she did not want to “rush to conclusions” about intelligence failures.

But she added: “We won’t shy away from looking at what we can do to keep people safe. We are in constant discussion with the security services and the police to make sure they have the right tools they need.”Rudd warned that further members of Abedi’s network could still be at large. Speaking shortly before fresh raids were launched in Moss Side, Manchester, on Sunday afternoon, the home secretary warned: “We can’t be entirely sure that [the Manchester operation] is closed.”

A 25-year-old man was arrested on Sunday in the Old Trafford area of Manchester on suspicion of offences contrary to the Terrorism Act, bringing the total number of arrests linked to the attack to 14. A dozen of those remain in custody for questioning and two have been released without charge. Charges are expected against some.

Meanwhile, Max Hill QC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, wrote in the Telegraph that more resources, not new laws, were needed to deal with the terror threat.

Intelligence officials have come under fire after past atrocities. Both of the killers of fusilier Lee Rigby, who was murdered in London in 2013, had been subjects of interest for their extremist views before the attack but had not been under active surveillance. MI5 also faced claims they missed a chance to stop the ringleader of the July 7, 2005, bombing of London, Mohammad Sidique Khan.

MI5 is getting more money and hiring more staff but the increase in its capacity – it now employs about 4,000 staff – will still take some time to be felt.

The level of terrorist activity directed at the UK is at an “unprecedented scale”, sources say, and is believed by counter-terrorism officials to have kept growing since last year.

In October 2015, the MI5 director general, Andrew Parker, gave a rare speech warning: “We have seen greater ambition for mass-casualty attacks. It may not yet have reached the high-water mark, and despite the successes we have had, we can never be confident of stopping everything.”