Report fails to mention MI6 role in lead-up to Manchester bombing, despite evidence

MI6 HQ
Tom Coburg

On 22 May 2017, Salman Abedi exploded a bomb at an Ariana Grande concert in the Manchester Arena. His attack killed  22 people and left over 100 injured.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has now published a report slamming MI5’s failure to prevent the bombing. But secret documents show that MI5 was not the only spy agency that failed in this regard. Indeed, the report adds that the ISC identified a failure that was so sensitive that it couldn’t share it publicly.

One major element absent from the report, however, is MI6’s role in the lead-up to Manchester bombing – even though significant evidence is available.

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Missed opportunities

In its report on the bombing and other terrorism attacks, the ISC said:

We have concluded that as a result of the failings, potential opportunities to prevent it [Manchester bombing] were missed.

Robby Potter, who took his 11-year-old daughter Tegan to the concert, said he was contemplating taking legal action against MI5 for the injuries and suffering he sustained.

MI5 failings

In 2011, as part of the military operations to overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, sources say MI5 facilitated the travel of British Libyans, many affiliated to the LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group).

One Libyan fighter told Middle East Eye that MI5 even returned their passports. And reportedly, counter-terrorism police at Heathrow Airport received instructions to let them board their flights with “no questions asked”. Another rebel said that an MI5 officer told him “the British government have no problem with people fighting against Gaddafi”. Fighters described this as an ‘open door’ policy, in which Britain allowed jihadi rebels free rein to fight against Gaddafi in the 2011 uprising.

One Libyan fighter explained:

The [British] government didn’t put any obstacles in the way of people going to Libya. The vast majority of UK guys were in their late twenties. There were some 18 and 19. The majority who went from here were from Manchester.

Abedi was “a known wolf”

In the wake of the Manchester bombing, Forum for Change chair Muddassar Ahmed commented on how Abedi brazenly:

flew a black Jihadi flag out of his window in Manchester. He was banned from his mosque. His Imam reported him. His family reported him. His friends reported him. He wasn’t a lone wolf – he was a known wolf.

Remarkably, Abedi was classified as a “closed subject of interest” for MI5, even though he was allegedly affiliated to the remnants of the LIFG’s most radical elements.

MI6 role

Charles Shoebridge, a former army and counter-terror intelligence officer, claimed that not just MI5 but also MI6 assisted British Libyans and Libyan asylum seekers to return to Libya “to fight Gaddafi”:

Indeed, former MI5 staffer Annie Machon also spoke about how Libyan rebels received ‘sanctuary’ from the British as far back as the 1990s. She also spoke of how members of Abedi’s family returned to Libya in 2011 to help overthrow Gaddafi.

Seeds sowed

In her book Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers, Machon sets out the evidence regarding MI6’s role in Libya. During a debrief with MI6 representative David Watson in late 1992, an LIFG contact (codename ‘Tunworth’) admitted he had links to al-Qaeda. Despite that admission, Watson provided $40,000 to ‘Tunworth’ at another meeting in Geneva. In exchange, ‘Tunworth’ offered to hand over the two men suspected of carrying out the Lockerbie bombing.

According to information sourced by Machon, ‘Tunworth’ was allegedly Abdullah Radwan, the assailant in a failed March 1996 attack on Gaddafi at Sirte – the same assassination attempt that MI6 allegedly funded (although the UK government has denied this).

A leaked CX (MI6) document – with the title LIBYA: PLANS TO OVERTHROW QADAHFI IN EARLY 1996 ARE WELL ADVANCED – shows details of the plot. According to the document, ‘Tunworth’ admitted contacts between the assassination plotters and extremists. It described them as “Libya veterans who served in Afghanistan”, i.e. people with connections to groups such as al-Qaeda.

Archived notes further suggest that the Permanent Under Secretary’s Department, GCHQ, MI5, the Ministry of Defence, and MI6 stations in Tunis, Cairo and Washington all knew of the assassination attempt in advance.

About turn

MI6 went on to play a pivotal role in the rendition of rebel leader Abdel Hakim Belhadj, whom Libyan intelligence subsequently tortured. And several documents showed the extent to which MI6 head Sir Mark Allen intervened in the matter.

But under former prime minister David Cameron, British foreign policy changed direction. And UK, French and US military intervention saw the fall of Gaddafi, and the rise of the LIFG.

It goes to the top

As home secretary, Theresa May attended a total of 55 National Security Council meetings on Libya between March and November 2011. Yet that council’s report on Libya failed to flag up any implications for domestic terrorism in Britain.

There should now be another report to examine the role of both MI6 and Theresa May in the events that led up to the Manchester massacre. Perhaps this forms the ‘sensitive’ material currently withheld but, either way, the public deserve to know the whole truth.

Featured image via Flickr/Alex France

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