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Manchester attack: final suspects may have slipped net and fled city, security officials fear

Threat that terror network is in towns with no armed forces

Kim Sengupta,Lizzie Dearden
Friday 26 May 2017 23:01 BST
Soldiers have been deployed across the UK and officials have reviewed security at 1,300 bank holiday events
Soldiers have been deployed across the UK and officials have reviewed security at 1,300 bank holiday events (PA)

Members of the terrorist network which carried out the Manchester atrocity may have fled to elsewhere in Britain and could have access to bomb-making material, according to security sources. Smaller towns which may not have a large armed police presence are places of particular concern.

The police and security agencies had attempted, with a large measure of success, to uncover the cell which helped Salman Abedi carry out the mass murder.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, Greater Manchester Police officers arrested two more men, aged 20 and 22, and carried out a controlled explosion during a series of raids in the Cheetham Hill area of the city. In the Moss Side area, residents were evacuated as police carried out a major search linked to the investigation. Eleven suspects are now in custody in all and evidence, including components of explosive devices, has been recovered.

But the apprehension that a few of Abedi’s accomplices have managed to escape the net and may attempt to strike in another part of the country lies behind the deployment of troops across the country. The threat level being kept at its highest classification, critical, and members of the SAS being used to carry out raids in case of resistance using firearms. Special operational measures are in place to take action if necessary away from large metropolitan centres, as was seen in the arrest of one of a suspect at Nuneaton, in Warwickshire.

A senior counter-terrorism officer, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, stated that the police have “got hold of a large part” of the terror network. Security has been reviewed at 1,300 events across the country, he said, and urged the public to “go out as you planned and enjoy yourself” over the Bank Holiday weekend. Events such as Radio 1's Big Weekend in Hull got under way on Saturday with the visible presence of armed police officers at entrance points.

But, Mr Rowley added that there still “important” lines of inquiry to pursue, more arrests were likely, and acknowledged that security status needs to remain at critical, for possibly as long as few more weeks.

The Independent revealed two days ago that a quantity of bomb-making material, including explosives, known to have been in possession of 22-year-old Abedi, of Libyan background, and others in the group is missing and not all of it has been found despite extensive searches.

Armed police officers patrol outside Burton Constable Hall in Hull on Saturday ahead of BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend (PA)

The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, Ian Hopkins, said: “It has been an extremely challenging week, and we are still in the middle of the investigation. We have seized thousands of exhibits which are now being assessed. I think it is fair to say there have been enormous progress with the investigation, but there is still an awful lot of work to do”.

One of the raids today took place at a barber shop in Moss Side which is believed to be owned by a cousin of Abedi, believed to be called Abdallah Forjani. A 38-year-old man who rented a flat to Abedi in the Blackley area is being held.

Abedi left the flat in March to travel to Libya. His father, Ramadan Abedi, also known as Abu-Ismail al-Obedei, is a former member of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group ( LIFG) an extremist organisation which was banned by the UN for its links to al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks in New York. Ramadan Abedi and a son, Hashem, 20, have been arrested in Tripoli by a militia affiliated to the country’s UN backed government. Another son, Ismail, 24, was arrested and remains in custody in England.

The security agencies are investigating whether Salman Abedi was indoctrinated during various visits to Libya. However there are suggestions that he had become radicalised in Manchester over a prolonged period. A mosque in Didsbury where Ramadan Abedi used to lead the call to prayers and Salman Abedi attended, has become a focus of attention.

Members of the mosque’s congregation and its trustees have denied any extremist link and have condemned the Manchester attack. But there is evidence that hardline Islamists, including members of militia in Libya, have attended the mosque. A speaker featured on the mosque's official YouTube channel “described martyrdom as virtuous”.

There had been suggestions that Salman Abedi had also travelled to Syria. The French foreign minister, Gerard Collomb, claimed that the British security agencies believe he went on to Syria from Libya. But a senior security source said: “We think he got a few things garbled there, we know that Abedi had gone to Libya, whether he went to Syria or not remains a line of inquiry.”

Abedi had travelled from Tripoli, where he was visiting his parents, to Istanbul, from there to Dusseldorf and then back to the UK before he carried out his attack. Turkish security sources said there is no evidence that he had crossed from Turkey into Syria and all the indications were that he did not leave the airport either in Turkey or Germany.

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