Manchester Arena bombing: MI5 did not pass intelligence to police before terror attack, inquiry hears

Crowds look at the floral tributes after a minute's silence in St Ann's Square, Manchester, to remember the victims of the terror attack in the city earlier this week.
Crowds look at the floral tributes after a minute's silence in St Ann's Square, Manchester, to remember the victims of the terror attack in the city earlier this week.

Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old Manchester bomber, had already cropped up multiple times 'on the radar' of police and MI5

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MI5 twice failed to pass on “highly relevant” intelligence to counter terror police in the months before the Manchester Arena attack, the public inquiry has heard.

Detective Chief Superintendent Dominic Scally, head of Counter Terrorism Policing North West, said neither piece of intelligence was given to his officers working on the ground in Manchester.

Months later, Salman Abedi carried out his suicide bombing, killing 22 bystanders and injuring hundreds more at the end of an Ariana Grande concert on May 22 2017.

The 22-year-old bomber had already cropped up multiple times “on the radar” of police and MI5.

In an independent assessment of MI5 and police internal reviews of terror attacks in the UK in 2017, Lord Anderson QC concluded the significance of the intelligence received by MI5 was not fully appreciated at the time.

Instead it was assessed to relate not to terrorism but to possible non-nefarious activity or to criminality on the part of Abedi.

The Anderson report concluded: “In retrospect, the intelligence can be seen to have been highly relevant to the planned attack.”

Duncan Atkinson QC, representing bereaved families, asked Mr Scally if he thought the information should have been shared and if it would have made any difference.

After legal submissions on behalf of the Home Office, Sir John Saunders, chairman of the inquiry, ruled the details could not be made public and will be heard in closed or private sessions of the public inquiry, where families, their lawyers and the media will be excluded for reasons of national security.

A woman stands by floral tributes in St Ann's Square, Manchester, ahead of a minute's silence to remember the victims of the terror attack in the city earlier this week.
A woman stands by floral tributes in St Ann's Square, Manchester, ahead of a minute's silence to remember the victims of the terror attack in the city earlier this week.

Earlier Mr Scally was asked about the emerging “cumulative picture” detailing how Abedi and other family members had cropped up numerous times in intelligence gathered by police and the security services.

Ramadan Abedi, the bomber’s father, had twice been subject to a port stop in 2011, while his young son was with him, and he had reported links to banned extremist organisation the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

Two years later, in December 2013, Salman Abedi was first investigated due to an association with a “subject of interest” (SOI) of MI5, and was himself made an SOI in March 2014 until July 2014, when his SOI status was “closed” and he was deemed a “low” residual threat.

It was suggested this was the first opportunity to refer him to Prevent, the government deradicalisation programme.

A month after his file was closed Abedi and his younger brother and fellow bomb plotter, Hashem, were rescued by HMS Enterprise as both were British nationals evacuated from war-torn Libya.

Salman Abedi went on to be in contact with eight SOIs, discovered during intelligence gathering on other suspect individuals, the inquiry has heard.

Another brother, Ismail, was found to have “utterly abhorrent” so-called Islamic State propaganda on his phone during a port stop and Salman Abedi twice visited a jailed terrorist in prison.

He lived in south Manchester, an area MI5 and police recognised had discontented Muslim communities and young men at risk of radicalisation.

Mr Scally told the hearing that contact with SOIs alone did not merit referral to Prevent or an investigation by the authorities.

He said “tens of thousands” hold extremist views and the threshold for police and security services taking action was when they turned their beliefs into action.

The inquiry is looking at all the background to the attack, carried out by Salman Abedi, with the help of his younger brother Hashem, who was jailed for life for his part in the plot.

The hearing in Manchester continues on Thursday.