Manchester attack could have been prevented by MI5, report finds

Salman Abedi, 22, the Manchester Arena attacker

The Manchester attack that killed 22 people in May might have been prevented if different decisions had been made by MI5, an official report has found.

Salman Abedi had been a “subject of interest” and opportunities to stop him were missed, the report said.

Its author, David Anderson QC, said it was conceivable the attack could have been avoided had “cards fallen differently.”

After the bombing and three terror attacks in London this year, counter-terror police and MI5 conducted internal reviews.

The reviews, which remain largely secret, are summarised in Mr Anderson’s report, and show:

MI5 headquarters in London
  • Salman Abedi had been a “Subject of Interest” for MI5 – meaning someone they were investigating – between January and July 2014, and then again in October 2015
  • On two occasions in the months before Abedi killed 22 people MI5 received intelligence, but its significance was not fully appreciated at the time and, in hindsight, was “highly relevant” to the planned attack
  • There was no security service port alert against Salman Abedi, so he was not questioned at the border when he returned to the UK from Libya four days before the attack
  • The two other attackers who had been on MI5’s radar were Khuram Butt, the leader of the London Bridge and Borough Market attack, and Khalid Masood on Westminster Bridge

The reviews also established that Butt had been identified by MI5 and the police as someone who wanted to attack the UK two years earlier. He was still a “live subject of interest” who was under investigation at the time of the attack, though more for his intention to travel to Syria and for radicalising others.

Mr Anderson said: “Despite elevated threat levels, the fundamentals are sound and the great majority of attacks continue to be thwarted. But the shock of these incidents has prompted intensive reflection and a commitment to significant change.

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“In particular, MI5 and the police have identified the need to use data more effectively, to share knowledge more widely, to improve their own collaboration and to assess and investigate terrorist threats on a uniform basis, whatever the ideology that inspires them.”

Security services response

Responding to the report the police and MI5 released a joint statement.

Andrew Parker, the Director General of MI5 said: “Throughout its history MI5 has had to adapt and change to keep pace with a fast-moving world, to stay ahead of the country’s adversaries. We have done this before and continue to do it today, in response to the unprecedented threat from international terrorism.

“I welcome David Anderson QC’s independent assurance of our reviews, and we are committed to implementing the recommendations we identified. As I said in October, we and our partner agencies used the harsh light of hindsight under independent challenge to ensure we squeezed every drop of learning out of these dreadful events.

“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.”

And Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service said: “Our thoughts remain with those who lost their lives, their families and the hundreds of others who were injured in the ghastly attacks in London and Manchester this year. Together, police and security services have worked hard to identify exactly where we can learn from these events and I’d like to thank David Anderson QC for his independent scrutiny and assurances of our reviews.

“The UK continues to be internationally recognised as a world leader in counter terrorism. Policing and our colleagues in the fight against terrorism will continue to learn and improve. We need to make rapid progress in implementing the recommendations, many of which require new technology, better infrastructures and resources at a time when the threat from terrorism poses significant challenges for police and security services.

“The growth in the number of dangerous individuals who have been radicalised is a major issue for us. We will be redoubling our efforts in enforcement activity both to disrupt and confront the threat and to safeguard the vulnerable from radicalisation.”

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