A senior MI5 official told the Manchester Arena investigation that the intelligence agency downgraded what turned out to be “very relevant” evidence about suicide bomber Salman Abedi.
Speaking from behind wooden screens, the officer, named only as Witness J, said MI5 received two pieces of intelligence on Abedi in the months leading up to the attack, which at the time were assessed as possibly not nefarious or non-terrorist. criminality.
Only after Abedi detonated the bomb that killed him and 22 concertgoers did MI5 realize that the evidence was important.
“Looking back, you can see that the intelligence was very relevant to the planned attack,” Witness J told the public inquiry into the atrocity on Monday.
Presenting evidence inside a custom wooden box to protect his anonymity, the officer offered to share the evidence with the investigation only in a closed-door session, away from reporters and the victims’ families.
The investigation heard that MI5 first received information about Abedi on December 30, 2010, the day before his 16th birthday, but “there was nothing to suggest” then that he was a national security risk.
From December 2013 to January 2017, he was in direct contact with three men, all separate “subjects of interest”: one suspected of planning a trip to Syria, one with ties to al-Qaida, and the third with ties to extremists in Libya. .
And between April 2016 and April 2017, a month before the attack, he had contact with three more subjects of interest, all with alleged links to the Islamic State terrorist group.
The intelligence on Abedi came just months before she blew herself up with a homemade shrapnel-filled bomb in the Manchester Arena lobby at the end of an Ariana Grande concert on May 22, 2017.
On one occasion, Abedi himself had been named a “subject of interest”, but his file was closed five months later, in July 2014, due to a “lack of commitment” to the extremists.
Witness J was asked about two visits to Abedi prison by convicted terrorist Abdalraouf Abdallah, the second of which was in January 2017, shortly before he began planning his terror attack.
He said there was no intelligence information that the visit was related to the planning of the attack: “There was no intelligence information indicating that the contact was related to Salman Abedi who posed a threat to national security. The decision not to open (an investigation) was reasonable. “
The investigation heard that Abedi’s name also hit a “priority indicator” during a separate “data laundering exercise” as it was among a small number of old topics of interest that deserved further consideration.
A meeting to consider the results was scheduled for May 31, 2017, nine days after the attack.
The investigation of the attack continues. On Friday, a man was arrested at Manchester airport after returning to the UK. He was detained on suspicion of participating in the preparation of acts of terrorism or helping others to prepare, and was released on bail pending further investigation. Police have not named him, but he was from Fallowfield, the south Manchester area where Abedi grew up.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism