The bombing of the May 22 Ariana Grande concert in Manchester may have been prevented, according to an independent assessment of the United Kindom intelligence reviews.
The bombing, which killed 23 and hurt 116, was conducted by Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old known to MI5, the U.K. intelligence agency.
In the months prior to the attack, MI5 received information that, if interpreted differently and sooner, could have led to an investigation and possibly to preventing the attack, according to a report by David Anderson QC (Queen’s Counsel), a lawyer tasked with assessing U.K. counterterrorism internal reviews conducted by MI5 and U.K.’s Counter Terrorism Policing after four terrorist attacks, including the one in Manchester, struck Britain between March and June.
”It is conceivable that the Manchester attack in particular might have been averted had the cards fallen differently,” Anderson wrote.
Abedi, a British citizen, was a person of interest to MI5 (meaning the agency had a file on him) since at least 2014, when he was allegedly “acting suspiciously” with another person of interest. But it turned out the other person was somebody else. Abedi’s file was closed. He was again investigated in 2015, when he was supposedly in contact with an ISIS figure in Libya. MI5 concluded “any contact was not direct,” Anderson wrote. Abedi’s file was closed again.
But in the months prior to the attack, MI5 received intel on two occasions that, “had its true significance been properly understood, would have caused an investigation into him to be opened,” Anderson wrote.
But MI5 didn’t recognize the significance at the time and considered Abedi’s activities “non-nefarious” or criminal—not terrorist.
“In retrospect, the intelligence can be seen to have been highly relevant to the planned attack,” Anderson wrote.
There was another red flag on Abedi.
MI5 was using “targeted data exploitation and other automated techniques” to scour through the 20,000 persons of interest with closed files to find people who may have become dangerous enough to reopen their cases. Abedi was among a small number of such people.
His case would have been considered on May 31, Anderson wrote. He bombed the concert a week earlier.
The MI5 internal review concluded that even if the agency had reopened an investigation into Abedi, “on the clear balance of professional opinion, a successful pre-emption of the gathering plot would have been unlikely,” Anderson wrote.
The review noted, though, that MI5 should have put Abedi on “ports action” following his travel to Libya in April. That would have alerted authorities upon his return and allowed them to search and question him.
Anderson served as the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation in the United Kingdom between February 2011 and March 2017. He completed the aforementioned report on a commission from U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd after he stepped down from the post.
For the assessment, he observed the work of MI5 and U.K.’s Counter Terrorism Policing. He also reviewed nine classified internal reviews conducted by the agencies.
He commended the agencies for thwarting 20 terrorist plots over the past four years and endorsed the recommendations for improvements made in the internal reviews conducted by the agencies.
Please help support independent journalism by sharing this article with your friends and family. It takes less than a minute. Thank you!