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Manchester bomber came to security service’s attention 18 times

Manchester Arena (Rob Sinclair/WikiMedia)

The man responsible for the bombing of Manchester Arena in 2017, Salman Abedi, came to the attention of the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security service, MI5, at least 18 times, including for his links to Daesh fundraisers, UK daily The Times reported on Thursday.

The public inquiry into the bombing heard that Abedi, 22, had been flagged after associating with six MI5 subjects of interest (SOI), including a man previously linked to terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, who was under investigation for helping fundamentalists travel to Syria.

Abedi had also traveled to Istanbul, a city through which terrorists often travel on their way to Daesh territory, a year before he killed 22 people as they left the Manchester Arena.

The security service had also been informed twice of Abedi’s intentions to travel to Syria and his pro-Daesh extremist views. The information was disregarded after he did not travel to the country.

MI5 was also aware of the fact that one of Abedi’s contacts had links to a senior Daesh figure, The Times reported.

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Lawyers representing the Home Office said that the decisions made in Abedi’s case were mostly “reasonable and understandable” after the families of victims asked why the police and MI5 had failed to take action that might have prevented the attack.

Home Office lawyer Cathryn McGahey said that the bomber came to MI5’s attention in 2010 and was made an SOI in 2014 because of his links to a Daesh recruiter. The case was closed that same year because there was “no intelligence indicating that he posed a threat to national security,” The Times reported.

The security service admitted that information had come to its attention in mid-2016 that led it to consider reopening the case, but a meeting to consider the step was scheduled on a date after the attack had taken place.

The bomber had also appeared on MI5’s radar on other occasions for his links to suspects affiliated with Daesh in Libya and his multiple trips to that country. However, the security services decided that this was not suspicious behavior, as Abedi had family there.

Abedi also visited convicted terrorist Abdalraouf Abdallah in British prisons twice, once in February 2015 and again in January 2017.

The inquiry also heard that intelligence was received by MI5 twice in the lead-up to the attack, but that it was dismissed as relating to “possibly innocent activity” or to “non-terrorist criminality.” While the intelligence was relevant to the Manchester attack, its significance was not fully appreciated.

McGahey said there were “enormous challenges in assessing intelligence, trying to work out what the risk is, who poses the greatest risk and seeking to predict what individuals are intending to do next,” and said that even if MI5 had taken different decisions in the months before the attack it still may not have stopped Abedi from carrying out the bombing.

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