'MI5 could have prevented Manchester Arena attack' says investigation

MI5 didn’t act swiftly 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 Manchester, concluded a public enquiry this Thursday.

Judge John Saunders, who led the inquiry into the Manchester Arena attack, said that one MI5 officer admitted that they considered intelligence on suicide bomber Salman Abedi, and suggested he could be a possible national security concern, but didn’t discuss it with colleagues quickly enough.

I have found a significant missed opportunity to take action that might have prevented the attack

In a rare televised statement, MI5 Director General Ken McCallum, who normally keeps a low public profile, said he was “profoundly sorry that MI5 did not prevent the attack.”

“Gathering covert intelligence is difficult, but had we managed to seize the slim chance we had, those impacted might not have experienced such appalling loss and trauma,” said McCallum.

Abedi set off a knapsack bomb in the arena’s foyer as thousands of young fans, including many children, were leaving the pop star’s show. More than 100 people were injured. 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 in prison.

Rui Vieira/Copyright 2017 The AP. All rights reserved.
Police attending the 2017 Manchester Arena attack. - Rui Vieira/Copyright 2017 The AP. All rights reserved.

Saunders said had MI5 acted on the intelligence it received, it could have led to action — including potentially stopping Abedi at Manchester Airport on his return from Libya four days before the attack or following him to his car on the day of the attack.

Caroline Curry, whose 19-year-old son Liam Curry was among those killed in the bombing, said on Thursday that she couldn’t forgive intelligence officials for their failings. “From top to bottom, MI5 to the associates of the attacker, we will always believe you all played a part in the murder of our children,” she told reporters.

Abedi had been a “subject of interest” to MI5 officials in 2014, but his case was closed shortly after because he was deemed to be low-risk. Saunders also said that authorities failed to refer Abedi to the government’s counterterrorism programme, known as Prevent. Thursday’s report was the third and final one into the attack.

Watch video in player above.