fb-pixel Skip to main content

UK investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber

British antiterrorism forces carried out raids over the weekend and Monday that ended with the arrests of two men. (JOHN SUPER/AFP/Getty Images)
British antiterrorism forces carried out raids over the weekend and Monday that ended with the arrests of two men. (JOHN SUPER/AFP/Getty Images)JOHN SUPER

LONDON — Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded pop concert in Manchester, England, last week.

A British government spokesman said Monday that the agency had opened two internal investigations last week, amid reports that the British authorities had been alerted to Abedi’s extremist views at least three times before the bombing.

The 22-year-old assailant, a Manchester resident of Libyan descent, had previously been flagged by MI5 as a “person of interest,” said a law enforcement official speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigations are continuing.

Advertisement



But Abedi had not been deemed dangerous, so his file was closed and his name was taken off a list of roughly 3,000 people under active investigation.

When a file is closed, all security alerts are removed. As a result, no warnings would have come up when Abedi showed his passport at border controls, the official said.

Several people who knew Abedi, including some of his friends, have said that they had warned authorities about his radical views over the past five years.

Abedi was barred from Didsbury Mosque, where his family worshipped, after he shouted at an imam who had condemned the ideology of the Islamic State group in a sermon, according to Akram Ramadan, a member of the Libyan community in Manchester who attends the mosque.

At least two congregants from the mosque reported Abedi to the authorities two years ago, the law enforcement official confirmed.

It is highly unusual for the British authorities to publicly confirm the existence of internal investigations into possible security lapses, but the British home secretary, Amber Rudd, welcomed the MI5 review Monday, saying it was “the right first step” in learning from the Manchester attack.

Advertisement



“There is a lot of information coming out at the moment — about what happened, how this occurred, what people might or might not have known,” Rudd said in an interview with Sky News. “And I think it is right that the MI5 takes a look to find out what the facts are.”

She emphasized, however, that while the investigations into possible security failures would be useful, the main focus should be on the terrorism investigation that is also underway. Detectives investigating the attack said Friday they had arrested most of the members of the network believed to have assisted Abedi on his suicide mission.

Police carried out a series of armed raids across Greater Manchester over the weekend, that ended with the arrest of a 25-year-old man in the Old Trafford area of the city. The operation expanded Monday to Shoreham-by-Sea, on the southeastern coast of England, where counterterrorism police officers arrested a 23-year-old.

That brought the number of arrests in the case to 16, Greater Manchester Police said in a statement Monday. Of those, two people have been released without charge.

Police released a new image of the bomber Monday that showed him wheeling a blue suitcase through Manchester city center days before he carried out the attack.

Detective Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson made an appeal to the public Monday, asking whether anyone had seen Abedi with the suitcase May 22. He said the authorities were particularly interested in his whereabouts in the four days leading up to the attack as investigators continue to track down his final movements.

Advertisement



Investigators suspect that Abedi received extensive training in Libya before returning to Britain, where he is thought to have received assistance from a local network in the days before the attack.

The bombing, at Manchester Arena at the end of an Ariana Grande concert, was Britain’s deadliest since 2005.