An inquiry has found that MI5 may have been able to prevent the Manchester suicide attack that killed 22 individuals.
Two separate leads were sent to MI5 in the months leading to Salman Abedi’s Manchester Arena bombing, that were assessed as ‘not to be linked to terrorism’ when actually they were ‘highly relevant’ to the planned attack.
David Anderson QC, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, stated that it “might have been averted had the cards fallen differently”, but he could not prove the attack would have definitely been stopped. He continued, “Had people understood it in a different way, I think an investigation would have been opened into Salman Abedi, and who knows what it would have found.”
MI5’s internal assessment said that a new investigation would not have prevented the attack. 20,000 former terror suspects were under examination in the weeks prior to the attack, and Abedi was just one of them. The meeting to discuss that was on May 31, whereas the attack occurred on May 22.
Abedi was put under active investigation twice before the bombing. Once in 2014, because he was in contact with another subject of interest, and he was considered as a ‘low residual risk’, and again a year later due to indirect contact with an ISIS/ISIL figure in Libya.
MI5 also missed an opportunity to put a notice on Abedi, that when he re-enters the UK from Libya, he would have been searched and questioned at the airport. This was four days prior to the bombing.
A similar case was the London Bridge attack, where Khuram Butt was under two years surveillance, and still managed to launch a terror attack.
Anderson says the terror threat in the UK ‘is not diminishing’, with a shift in methods and suspects, putting a greater strain on security services. He also made 126 recommendations to improve the system, including the MI5, police, and other agencies improve their intelligence sharing, and standardising triage assessments, and even increased cooperation with private sectors such as Amazon. He highlighted that neighbourhood policing was particularly important in counter-terror work.
Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, stated that the agency will continue to adapt to ‘stay ahead of the country’s adversaries’ and will take on Anderson’s recommendations. He said, “MI5 and our partners continue to bring the full weight of our growing capabilities to counter this new intensity of threat. Our unrelenting focus remains on doing everything in our power every day to keep the country safe.”
Dan Hett, whose brother Martyn died in the Manchester attack, said:
“I can’t imagine the kind of complexity that these services deal with, and the level of decision that they need to make constantly … Applying 20/20 hindsight to a difficult and stressful scenario is tempting but needs to be framed within the wider context of what they’re dealing with daily.”