Britain’s domestic intelligence agency did not act quickly enough on key information and missed a significant opportunity to prevent the suicide bombing that killed 22 people at a 2017 Ariana Grande concert in northwest England, found an inquiry on Thursday.
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Retired Judge John Saunders, who presided over the inquiry by Manchester Arena attacksaid an MI5 officer admitted they considered intelligence about suicide bomber Salman Abedi a possible national security concern, but did not discuss it with colleagues quickly enough.
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Abedi, 22, set off a backpack bomb in the arena’s foyer at the end of the concert on May 22, 2017, as thousands of young fans, including children, were leaving the pop star’s show. Abedi died in the explosion.
His brother, Hashem Abedi, was convicted in 2020 of helping to plan and carry out the attack. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Saunders said that if MI5 had acted on the intelligence it received, it could have led to Abedi being stopped at Manchester Airport on his return from Libya just four days before the attack.
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Richard Scorer, a lawyer representing 11 of the bereaved families, said the report was a “devastating conclusion for us.”
“It is now abundantly clear that there was no proper assessment of key intelligence about Salman Abedi; a failure to put it in context, and _ most disastrously of all _ a delay in acting on it,” Scorer said. “Those failures disclosed in this report are unacceptable.”
Several MI5 witnesses gave evidence behind closed doors to the inquiry and the intelligence was not disclosed publicly.
Abedi had been a “subject of interest” to MI5 officers in 2014, but his case was closed soon after because he was considered low risk.
Saunders also said authorities failed to refer Abedi to the government’s anti-terrorism program, known as Prevent.
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“I have concluded that there was at least one period during Salman Abedi’s journey to violent extremism when he should have been referred,” he said.
Thursday’s report was the third and final in the attack. Saunders has previously criticized arena security staff and local police for failing to identify Abedi as a threat. He has also criticized delays and failures in the response of the emergency services on the night of the bombing.
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