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Manchester Arena bomb attack 'could have been stopped', report finds

A report was published today looking into the manner in which the MI5 dealt with the attacks.

Police laying flowers in St Ann's Square, Manchester, the day after the bombing
Police laying flowers in St Ann's Square, Manchester, the day after the bombing
Image: Peter Byrne

THE MANCHESTER TERROR attack that killed 22 people could have been prevented if the MI5 had made different decisions, an official report has found.

The report‘s author, David Anderson QC, said it was conceivable that the Manchester attack carried out by Salman Abedi in May “might have been averted had the cards fallen differently”.

Abedi had been a “subject of interest” in MI5 investigations twice in the past few years – between January and July 2014, and again in October 2015. However, those investigations were later closed and the interest in Abedi was downgraded to low risk.

Reviews of four UK terror attacks between March and June this year were carried out by Anderson to look at the manner in which police and the MI5 handled surveillance of people of interest before the attacks happened.

On two separate occasions in the months prior to the Manchester attack, intelligence was received by MI5, but its significance was not fully appreciated at the time and, in retrospect, the intelligence was “highly relevant” to the planned attack.

The report also found that, despite his status as a subject of interest, an opportunity was missed by MI5 to place Abedi on security port alert following his travel to Libya in April 2017.

“This would have triggered an alert when he returned shortly before the attack, which could have enabled him to be questioned and searched at the airport,” the report said.

An MI5 meeting to discuss weather Abedi should be investigated further was planned too late. It was scheduled for 31 May – nine days after the bombing.

At the meeting, Abedi’s case would have been considered, together with others identified.

Anderson’s report also outlines that two other terrorists involved in this year’s London attacks were being surveilled by police and intelligence services.

Khalid Masood – who killed five people during the Westminister attack in March – has previously been investigated by police for extremist links.

However, his case was closed five years ago.

Similarly, Khuram Butt – who carried out the London Bridge attack in June – had been identified by both the police and the MI5 as someone who wanted to attack the UK two years ago.

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Met Police response

Responding to today’s revelations, London’s Metropolitan Police said:

“Although we work tirelessly to keep the country safe the reality of the terrorist threat means that we will not stop every attack.”

It noted that MI5 and Met Police have together thwarted 22 plots in the last four years, nine of which have been stopped since March 2017.

There are currently over 500 counter-terrorism investigations, involving more than 3,000 subjects of interest, according to Met Police.

A number of recommendations have been laid out by Anderson, including exploiting data, multi-agency engagement and an increasing role for the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.

Met Police said: “Implementing the recommendations included in the post-attack reviews and the OIR is a priority for both MI5 and police.

Together, we are committed to continuing the open and collaborative approach we already share. The work will be driven forward by the two organisations while working closely with partners.

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