Libyan fighters freely operated under Theresa May’s watch as Home Secretary [OPINION]

Theresa May
Tom Coburg

Libyan fighters of varying affiliations were seemingly free to operate under the watch of Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. Moreover, evidence suggests there were a number of errors, missed opportunities and poor intelligence-sharing by MI5 and the police that led up to the Manchester bombing.

The Chair of Forum for Change, Muddassar Ahmed, gets straight to the point, commenting:

[Manchester Arena bomber Salman] Abedi 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.

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Catalogue of errors

Authorities were allegedly told of the danger posed by Abedi on at least five separate occasions, in the five years prior to the Manchester attack. These included:

  • Ramadhan Foundation CEO Mohammed Shafiq said: “People in the community expressed concerns about the way this man [Abedi] was behaving and reported it in the right way using the right channels. They did not hear anything since”.
  • Aktam Ramadan believed Abedi was on a “watch list” because the Didsbury mosque reported him to the authorities.
  • Abedi also told friends that “being a suicide bomber was okay”, prompting them to call the government’s anti-terrorism hotline.

MI5 made it easier

And in 2011, as part of the military operations to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi, sources say MI5 facilitated the travel of British Libyans, many affiliated to the LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group). Those same sources claim their control orders were lifted and passports returned.

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One 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.

The LIFG went on to help form the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change, a more moderate incarnation that would gain prominence after the overthrow of Gaddafi. But suicide bomber Abedi lived nearby to some of the LIFG’s more radical elements. France’s Interior Minister also said he had links to Daesh (Isis/Isil).

It didn’t help that British foreign policy at that stage was going through a period of flux. Thus the intelligence services may have failed to distinguish between the anti-Gaddafi moderates within LIFG and the extremists who had a different agenda.

Whitehall failure

In January 2016, in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, former Defence Secretary Liam Fox was asked whether the Conservative government had made an assessment of the threat of Islamic extremism among anti-Gaddafi rebels. He replied:

I do not recall reading anything of that nature. That is not to say it would not have been done, but I don’t recall reading such material … I do not recall reading any reports that set out the background of any Islamist activity to specific rebel groups.

And as Home Secretary, May attended a total of fifty-five national security council meetings on Libya, between March and November 2011. Yet that council’s report [pdf] on Libya fails to flag up any implications for domestic terrorism in Britain.

Held to account

The sympathy expressed by May for the families of those killed or injured in the Manchester bombing, while no doubt sincere, contrasts sharply with her record on arms deals to foreign powers. Such as arm sales to the Saudis for their brutal assault on Yemenis, or arm sales to Turkey in its war against Kurds. Both of which further the conflict in the Middle East and may then impact on the British domestic scene. And as Jeremy Corbyn has elaborated, interventionist failures lead to consequences.

Governments must be held to account for their interventionist and intelligence failures. Not to do so means we don’t learn from them. And that could sadly mean terrorist attacks like that in Manchester are more likely to occur again.

Get Involved!

– For more coverage on the attack, see here.

Featured image via Flickr Creative Commons.

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