Manchester Arena bombing inquiry: MI5 did not reopen investigation into Salman Abedi despite his visits to terrorist prisoner

Inquiry will consider if opportunities to intervene in radicalisation or prevent attack were missed

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Wednesday 09 September 2020 18:26
Public inquiry into Manchester Arena bombing opens

MI5 did not reopen its investigation into the Manchester Arena bomber despite knowing he was visiting a convicted terror offender in prison, an inquiry has heard.

The probe is to examine whether Salman Abedi’s attack, which killed 22 victims and injured hundreds more on 22 May 2017, could have been prevented.

On Wednesday, the third day of the public inquiry heard that signs of his radicalisation went back several years.

Bereaved relatives were shown a photo from social media of Abedi performing a hand gesture used by Isis supporters, and told he had expressed support for the group and “spoken about martyrdom and jihad in positive terms”.

A teacher saw a photo of him holding a gun in Libya during the country’s civil war, but believed his claim that he had merely been “shooting” on his family’s land.

MI5 had received information on Abedi dating back to 2010, but repeatedly assessed that he did not pose a security threat despite knowing of his contact with Isis supporters and travel to Libya.

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, said it would consider whether it was “reasonable” for MI5 to close an active investigation into Abedi in July 2014, and not to reopen it in light of new intelligence.

"MI5 information indicated that Abedi visited a terror offender in prison on more than one occasion, but MI5 assessed that this did not justify reopening him as a subject of interest,” he added.

“Links with Abdalraouf Abdallah are of significant interest to the inquiry.”

Abdallah, whose parents were also Libyan refugees, lived in the same area of Manchester as Abedi, attended the same school and shared many associates.

A photo of Salman Abedi obtained from Facebook, which was shown to the Manchester Arena inquiry on 9 September

He was paralysed while fighting against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in the 2011 Libyan civil war and was jailed in 2016 for helping Isis fighters travel to Syria.

Mr Greaney said Abedi and Abdallah were in “regular telephone contact” from 2014 onwards, and had “conversed about martyrdom”.

Abedi travelled to HMP Belmarsh in London to visit Abdallah while he was being held on remand in 2015, then visited him in Liverpool’s HMP Altcourse in January 2017.

The following month, officers at the private G4S-run jail found that Abdallah had an illicit mobile phone in his cell, which showed calls to Abedi’s number.

Abdallah, who is still serving his sentence, has refused to answer questions from the public inquiry, relying on privilege against self-incrimination.

Mr Greaney said “considerable efforts” were being made to obtain evidence from him, adding: “We wish to understand if Abdallah had any role to play in the development of Abedi’s worldview.”

He said the inquiry had commissioned a report on radicalisation inside British prisons, asking: “How was Abedi able to visit a prisoner such as Abdallah?”

The terrorist was also an associate of a man arrested, but not charged, in connection with a failed bombing by an Islamist in Exeter in 2008.

Wednesday’s hearing was told that none of Abedi’s parents or siblings, including his jailed brother Hashem Abedi, had made “substantive responses” to requests for statements.

“This is most unhelpful and we hope that Abedi’s family will reflect and understand that they have a moral obligation to provide the information we require,” Mr Greaney said.

“We are seeking to understand how Abedi arrived at a position in which he was willing to do what he did,” he added.

“We will consider whether there were any warning signs while he was at any [educational] institutions and if anything more could or should have been done to follow up with him when he suddenly dropped out of his university course in December 2016.

“We will consider the influence of Abedi’s religious community.”

Abedi and his family attended and took roles at the Didsbury Mosque, where the future bomber allegedly stared at an imam “with a look of hate” after an anti-Isis sermon in 2014.

The following year, Abedi is believed to have taken part in a protest outside the United Arab Emirates embassy in London in 2015 against the arrest of suspected Isis members.

Bomber Salman Abedi pictured moments before Manchester Arena massacre

Abedi attended several other mosques but was not an “active or regular” worshipper, and the schools, colleges and universities he attended reported no signs of religious extremism.

He was said to be a poor student, “badly behaved and arrogant”, and to have attacked a female student at Manchester College.

After he moved on to Trafford College in 2014, the inquiry heard that a tutor “saw an image on Abedi’s computer of him holding a gun while in Tripoli, but his explanation that his family had lots of land in Libya and he used to go shooting there was accepted”.

His father, Ramadan Abedi, was associated with members of the formerly proscribed Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

Having sought asylum in Britain in 1993, Ramadan returned to Libya during the uprising against Gaddafi in 2011 and photographs show Abedi with military vehicles and weapons.

He and his brother, Hashem, returned to Britain in 2012 but attended school poorly and started taking drugs, but travelled back to LIbya several times visiting relatives.

In 2015, the two brothers made a pilgrimage to Mecca and friends said they noticed the pair changing their behaviour and expressing extremist views after their return.

Salman’s brother, Hashem Abedi, was jailed for life for his part in the plot

Abedi’s uncle said he had “talked about supporting Isis” and a friend said he expressed sympathy for the group while watching the news.

Mr Greaney said the inquiry would examine “whether authorities missed opportunities to prevent the attack” or intervene in Abedi’s radicalisation.

It will question “whether any further disruptive action could or should have been taken”, and if Abedi should have been referred to the Prevent counter-extremism programme or put under travel restrictions.

He said that a previous review concluded that MI5 received intelligence on two occasions in the months before the bombing, “which in retrospect can be seen as highly relevant to the planned attack”.

The security service did not open its investigation but was due to consider Abedi at a meeting nine days after he blew himself up, because he was one of almost 700 closed subjects of interest flagged by a review.

MI5 first received information on Abedi in 2010 because his details were linked to another subject of interest, but assessed there was nothing suspicious at that time.

He came under investigation in March 2014 after contact with a person involved in travel to Syria but the probe was closed four months later after Abedi was “assessed not to be a national security risk”.

Abedi came onto MI5’s radar over links with extremists in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and was also subject to two travel checks that found he had not travelled to Syria.

“MI5 assessed there was nothing to indicate he posed a risk,” Mr Greaney said.

The inquiry will continue on Monday.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in