Wednesday 22 May 2024

The Manchester Bombing Cover-Up Continues

Mark Curtis writes:

Will the truth about the UK secret state’s connections to the Manchester bomber ever be revealed? Not if MI5 and David Cameron can help it.

The security service has been decidedly unforthcoming in revealing what it, and other UK intelligence agencies, knew about Salman Abedi in the months and years before he detonated his bomb at the Ariana Grande concert on 22 May 2017.

The report of the public inquiry into the bombing, published in March last year, was a very British establishment affair.

The inquiry chairman, Sir John Saunders, allowed MI5 to reveal almost nothing that was not already in the public domain about what it knew about the Abedi family.

Crucially, Saunders made little attempt to probe UK government policies during its war in Libya in 2011, when David Cameron was foreign secretary. Salman Abedi and his family fought on the same side as Britain during that war.

He was taken to the conflict at age 16 by his father, and may have gained military experience and training there.

Evidence emerged that the Abedis had joined militias (the February 17 Martyrs Brigade and the Tripoli Brigade) that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Yet the inquiry did not probe how the British military and security services had supported those groups at the time, even though some information was available from open source material.

One key witness to the inquiry was a friend of the Abedis who was in contact with Salman prior to the bombing. He was a member of the Tripoli Brigade and admitted to being trained by Nato during the war.

There was little probing as to whether the Abedis might have also received such training.

Letting off Cameron

David Cameron, the foreign secretary during the Libya war, has been very conspicuously let off. He wasn’t even called to give evidence to the inquiry.

Evidence has emerged that MI5 and MI6 encouraged radicals such as the Abedis, and other British-Libyans based in Manchester, to fight in Libya, and allowed them to travel to the country, a hotbed of terrorism, for years afterwards.

Why did Cameron’s government allow this? No serious efforts were made by Saunders to probe this issue.

It is key because the Manchester bomber’s father is widely reported to have been a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) – which was a banned terrorist group in 2011.

Remarkably, the inquiry report didn’t even mention that Britain was an active party to the war in Libya.

Neither was anyone from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) required to answer questions about how the UK military assisted the 17 February Brigade during the war – even though we published evidence showing Whitehall knew the militia would benefit from regime change. / Where were MI6 and GCHQ?

MI6 has escaped all accountability despite its extensive contact with the LIFG going back several decades.

From its collusion in the 1990s in a plot to kill Gaddafi, to its suppression of the group after 9/11, the LIFG was well known to MI6.

Saunders found it was likely that Salman Abedi was assisted in his bombing plans by people in Libya and in the terrorist training camps there. So why wasn’t the secret intelligence service required to give evidence about what they knew of this?

And why wasn’t Britain’s largest intelligence agency, GCHQ, which monitors communications and says it is central to all Britain’s wars, called to say what it knows?

The tragic murder of 22 people in Manchester was likely blowback from a foreign policy debacle that has destabilised north Africa for well over a decade.

MI5 accountability

The victims’ families are now taking MI5 to court for failing to stop the bombing. The inquiry at least found that the security service missed opportunities to stop Salman Abedi.

Largely as a result of the intensive efforts of the lawyers for the victims’ families, the head of MI5 was forced to apologise for his agency’s failings – a significant admission which might offer some solace to the bereaved families.

But they deserve the full truth.

The agency should be required to say what it knows about any British collusion with the Abedis. At the inquiry, MI5 was allowed to give nearly all its evidence in secret, closed sessions.

Saunders only allowed certain lines of questioning to be pursued and the inquiry’s terms of reference did not explicitly say the policies of UK government agencies would be investigated.

That’s not good enough.

Neither is MI5’s silence about another extraordinary episode – when in 2014, Abedi was allowed to travel to Libya unhindered and was even rescued from the country by the Royal Navy.

The Greater Manchester Police (GMP) stated that after Salman and his brother Hashem were rescued, they agreed to be “debriefed”.

What does this mean?

When Peter Weatherby, one of the victims’ families’ lawyers, questioned GMP witness Dominic Scally whether they were in fact debriefed, he said: “I’m afraid that’s one of the areas I can neither confirm or deny what we may hold about that.”

The MoD isn’t keen to reveal the truth either. When Alba MP Kenny MacAskill recently asked the department if the Abedi brothers were debriefed, minister James Heappey told parliament that, “having completed a search of relevant records, we have found no information pertaining to the question”.

The victims’ families are right to keep pressing MI5. The British establishment clearly has much to hide.