MI5 knew that Salman Abedi was ISIS supporter before he launched Manchester Arena bomb attack that killed 22, documents reveal
Salman Abedi ‘talked about killing people’ for years, inquiry was told
A summary of evidence was published by the public inquiry into the attack today
It said: ‘MI5 had intelligence that Salman Abedi supported Islamic State’
By HENRY MARTIN FOR MAILONLINE
PUBLISHED: 13:40, 15 February 2022 | UPDATED: 14:08, 15 February 2022
MI5 knew that Salman Abedi had supported ISIS before he launched the Manchester Arena attack which killed 22 people, documents have revealed.
Abedi, who was 22 when he committed mass murder, spoke about violence ‘so often’ that it was not ‘taken seriously’ and had been dismissed as ‘hearsay’ by people who knew him, the inquiry into the May 2017 attack was told.
Today a summary of evidence which had previously been heard in closed sessions for national security reasons was published by the public inquiry into the attack.
It said a witness had revealed: ‘MI5 had intelligence that Salman Abedi supported Islamic State, but noted that there were a large number of people during this period who expressed such support who did not pose a threat to UK national security.’
The summary added that there were ‘some inconsistencies in the intelligence about the extent to which he supported the aims of Islamic State and what, if anything, he would do to achieve its aims through his actions’.
In November 2015, when Abedi travelled to Germany via Paris and returned to Britain the next day, an MI5 officer had initially considered it was ‘likely he was attempting to travel to Syria’, the documents reveal.
But an MI5 investigator ‘in conjunction with colleagues’ disagreed with the officer and concluded that travel to Syria was ‘unlikely’.
On 25 May 2016, a counter-terror police (CTP) officer had raised a concern about Abedi’s travel to Turkey, bringing it to the attention of MI5 – which had information that Abedi had travelled from Istanbul to Libya that day.
MI5’s North West investigative team intended to share this information with counter-terror police, but MI5 has ‘no record to indicate that it was sent to CTP and CTP has no record of it being received’.
The news comes after the inquiry heard that police came across the name, photo and phone number of Salman Abedi during an anti-terror investigation years before he carried out the Manchester Arena bombing.
But the information was not highlighted to an intelligence unit of counter-terror policing as it should have been, a retired detective told the hearing.
Frank Morris, a former senior investigating officer at North West Counter Terrorism Policing (NWCTP), came across the intelligence running an investigation called Operation Oliban in 2014 into another Manchester terrorist, Abdalraouf Abdallah, who was friends with the arena bomber Salman Abedi.
Abdallah was convicted and jailed for terrorism in 2016 after being at the centre of a web helping British Muslim men to go to Syria or Libya to fight jihad.
During the police investigation a person named ‘Salman’ was found to have exchanged around 1,300 mobile phone text messages with Abdallah in the space of a month in November 2014.
The pair shared an ‘extremist, Islamist mindset’, the hearing was told, with Abedi telling his friend: ‘By Allah… every day, on every kneeling I ask my Lord for martyrdom.’
He also described non-Muslims as ‘dogs’ and ‘Khuffars’ and shared an image of the currency used by so-called Islamic State in Syria, ‘not under control of the West’.
Abedi had also sent two photos of himself, his phone number was available and he had given his full name in the text exchanges – all available to police.
But the police had never sought to find out who ‘Salman’ was and only identified him as Abedi after the murder of 22 bystanders during the suicide bombing at the arena on May 22 2017.
While Abedi was not involved in facilitating extremists to go to fight jihad abroad, the subject of the earlier police investigation, the information about him should have been highlighted to the NWCTP intelligence unit for ‘development’, the inquiry was told.
Mr Morris, a former detective inspector, conceded this did not happen but should have.
Sir John Saunders said that had police linked the phone number of Salman with his identity, this information could have ‘informed future decisions’.
Twice in the months prior to the attack intelligence was received by MI5 about Abedi but was assessed at the time to relate to possibly non-terrorist criminality.
In retrospect this intelligence was highly relevant to the planned attack, but the significance of it was not fully appreciated at the time, the inquiry has heard.
Today a prison officer, referred to only as ‘PO1’ for legal reasons, revealed he had a conversation with convicted terrorist recruiter Abdalraouf Abdallah in his prison cell on 1 December last year, shortly after Abdallah had spoken at the inquiry.
The officer said Abdallah, a friend of Abedi’s from Moss Side, Manchester, had called him over for a chat but his body language revealed he ‘seemed bothered about something’, the Manchester Evening News reports.
PO1 said: ‘He was sat in his cell just watching telly. I went in and sat on his bed. I said ”right Abdul, what’s on your mind?”.’
Abdallah revealed that he was ‘shocked’ to discover that ‘one of his boys’ had committed the Arena attack, PO1 said.
The officer told the inquiry that Abdallah did not refer to Abedi by name, but said that he had ‘spoken about causing harm to others’ over a period of years, but he had spoken about it ‘so often’ that it was not ‘taken seriously’.
The inquiry was told that PO1, who calls Abdallah ‘Abs’, reported the conversation through formal prison channels.
He wrote: ‘He [Abdallah] seen me and called me over for a chat, stating that he is feeling really low that one of his close boys on the out has actually committed the terror attack in Manchester and states that when he last spoke to him ages ago, that he did not think he would go through with it and it was just hearsay.’