The shocking story ‘lost’ in the coronavirus crisis that MI5 and MI6 would prefer you didn’t see

Tom Coburg

On 17 March 2020, Hashem Abedi was convicted of the murder of 22 people at the Manchester Arena. They died as a result of a bombing carried out by his brother, Salman Abedi, who died at the scene. Hashem Abedi was found guilty of aiding his brother in this heinous act, which also saw 237 people injured.

Following the trial, the corporate media rightly focused on the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. Perhaps this explained why there was little mention in the press of how MI5 failed to monitor Libyan jihadists properly in the part of Manchester where the Abedis lived; or of how MI6 may have helped radicalise the jihadist group that the Abedi brothers, via their father, were linked to.

‘Blowback’

Journalists Mark Curtis and Nafeez Ahmed previously argued that the Manchester bombing was “blowback” for UK foreign policy and intelligence operations in Libya, saying:

While a number of factors operate to contribute to an individual’s radicalisation, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that one of these contributory factors is British direct and covert action in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Without these actions – by Britain and its close allies – it is conceivable that [Salman] Abedi might well not have had the opportunity to become radicalised in the way he did.

MI6 was responsible for covert action in Libya. Monitoring of exiled Libyans in Britain was down to MI5.

MI5 and the LIFG

In the wake of terror attacks in London and Manchester, a former senior policy adviser to David Cameron commented on how Theresa May should accept responsibility, tweeting:

Indeed, under May’s watch there was an apparent catalogue of failures by both MI5 and the police to follow through on warnings and intelligence.

As RT previously reported:

An official report into the attack, conducted by David Anderson QC, noted that: “On two separate occasions in the months prior to the attack, intelligence was received by MI5 whose significance was not fully appreciated at the time. It was assessed at the time not to be [related to] terrorism but to possible non-nefarious activity or to criminality on the part of Salman Abedi.

“In retrospect, the intelligence can be seen to have been highly relevant to the planned attack.”

In particular, it was under May that MI5 reportedly conducted an ‘open door’ policy for the Manchester-based LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group). One LIFG fighter told Middle East Eye that MI5 had inspected but returned their passports and that counter-terrorism police at Heathrow Airport were told to let them board their flights. As for Salman Abedi, Middle East Eye reported that:

after his father returned to Libya in 2011 to fight for LIFG, Abedi reportedly travelled back and forth between his home and Manchester and Tripoli, and fought alongside his father during the school holidays.

MI6 and regime change

As the Guardian reported, many LIFG members had escaped Libya and arrived in the UK after a plot to assassinate Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi failed:

When that plot – which some claim was backed by MI6 – failed, the LIFG was pursued by Gaddafi’s security forces. A large number fled to the UK, where they were granted asylum on the grounds that as opponents of Gaddafi “our enemy’s enemy is our friend”, and many went to Birmingham and Manchester – home to established Arab communities that had found work in the cities’ engineering industries.

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

As Mark Curtis observed:

The plot went ahead in February 1996 in Sirte, Qadafi’s home city, but a bomb was detonated under the wrong car. Six innocent bystanders were killed, and Qadafi escaped unscathed.

MI6 also played a pivotal role in the alleged rendition of LIFG leader Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who was subsequently tortured by Libyan intelligence. Several incriminating documents retrieved by Human Rights Watch showed the extent to which MI6 head Mark Allen personally intervened and assisted the Libyan authorities in the matter.

Blowback revisited

Libya is currently one of the most unstable countries in north Africa. There are now reports of Syrian jihadists allied to Turkey providing support to the Tripoli-based government of national accord.

Covert intelligence operations can lead to unforeseen results, and it’s impossible to predict how events would have panned out had Britain not interfered in the geo-politics of that region. But while politicians who oversaw those operations appear to have emerged relatively unscathed, the same can’t be said for the ordinary folk who merely wanted to attend an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Show Comments
    1. May sacked so many in all fields of our security but our secret squirrels act the way their master wants which is beyond comprehension has they try to rule but had they allowed Saddam and cadafi to live then we wouldn’t have so many terrorists and bombing Syria is another of our masters blunder to rule to want is their way I’m afraid

    2. I am not shocked.

      The failure to co-ordinate activity between branches of the secret services is as old as the secret services – must be thousands of examples where pursuit of a military objective clashed with a concurrent pursuit of a diplomatic, political or economic or ideological aim.

      What is the solution? Greater public scrutiny and accountability for all secret services? Ideally, yes. How do this?

      I am an advocate of greater participation by all citizens in government. I would like to see the jury idea (12 citizens picked at random to hear evidence and give a verdict, led by expert counsel, within the law, through objective rational process) extended to new areas.

      Instead of e.g. MP-only Select Committees scrutinising government conduct or pursuing fact-finding briefs, or investigating scandals and failures of standards, I would like to see citizens doing that job. I think they would be less likely to be biased by party politics, careerism, or lobbying.

      Could a group of ‘ordinary people’ sit on a committee to oversee the conduct of our secret services? Why not? Anyone without security clearance would be precluded. And everyone involved would have to sign the Official Secrets Act. This is the same basis on which ‘James Bond’ operates and that is supposed to be enough protection for our ‘national security’.

      There is no reason to suppose ‘common folk’ would be any less honourable, trustworthy, intelligent, wise or patriotic than what we have now – a bunch of anonymous civil servants, failed politicians, ex-military, random toffs and others far too narrow in background and far too close to the ‘establishment’ and the ‘state’ to be effective guards of our public interests. And many reasons to think a citizen-led supervision of secret service operations would keep us all safer. I reckon citizens would be much less happy to give the go-ahead to operations likely to get their kids killed at a pop concert than Old Etonians confident that any blow-back would not fall on them or their class.

    3. Incidentally, the secret services HQ is a bloody ugly building, isn’t it? It looks like a cross between a lego model of an Art Deco cinema organ and some kind of desert palace commissioned by Sadam Hussein but spiked when he was found down a drain.

      A building reflects the psyche of the occupant (assuming they hired the architect and sighed off on the plans). On that basis, British secret services are (1) a bunch of overgrown kiddies playing with dangerous toys they might choke on and (2) they identify far too closely with murderous dictators. Looks like a bad case of ‘Stockholm syndrome’ – they are so fixated on fighting in the Middle East that they have become Ba’athists at heart.

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