By the time Salman Abedi detonated a bomb at a Ariana Grande concert in May 2017, which killed 22 innocent people, he had been on the radar of the security services for seven years.
The Manchester bomber had been flagged through first MI5 in 2010 when he was just 15 years old, the first in a long line of dealings with anti-terror agencies.
These include his decision to travel to Libya and his subsequent evacuation by the Royal Navy, and spies investigating his apparent connections to ISIL and Al Qaeda.
Below are all 23 times he appeared on the UK security services radar between 2010 and 2017:
By the time Salman Abedi detonated a bomb during an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017, killing 22 innocent people, he had already been on the radar of the security services for seven years
December 2010: Abedi first comes to the attention of MI5 seven years earlier, at the age of 15, when an address linked to him becomes relevant in an investigation.
2011: MI5 and anti-terror police are told that Abedi may be going to Syria, but conclude that he briefly went to Europe.
November 2011: Ramadan Abedi, Salman’s father, subject to port checks at Manchester and Dover airport on return from Libya. Once Salman was with him.
December 2013: Abedi was erroneously regarded as a person seen next to a “Subject of Interest” under investigation because he planned to join Isis in Syria.
March 2014: Salman is made a “subject of interest” at low level MI5 for four months after contacting a suspect by phone.
July 2014: Dan 19, Salman and younger brother Hashem, 17, travel to Libya but are evacuated by HMS Enterprise on August 4, without any security debriefing.
August 2014: Suspected Isis recruiter Abdalraouf Abdallah exchanged 1,300 messages with person named ‘Salman’.
2015: Abedi’s phone is linked to an Al Qaeda suspect who is under investigation for arranging travel to Syria.
2015: MI5 told of Abedi’s contact with a Libya-linked subject.
February 2015: Abedi visited Abdallah on remand at London’s Belmarsh Prison, leading to an investigation by MI5 and the police.
May 2015: MI5 considered investigating Salman and another individual. He was treated as an informal stakeholder involved in terrorism financing.
September 2015: Salman’s elder brother, Ismail Abedi, is apprehended at Heathrow upon returning from Malaysian honeymoon. Radical material is found on his phone.
September 2015: Salman and Hashem go on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, which friends call a “turning point” for Hashem turned bomb maker.
October 2015: Abedi’s status as a subject of interest is reopened and closed within a day after MI5 found a link to ‘senior’ Libyan Isis figure – later revealed to be through a third person.
November 2015: Salman travels to Germany via Paris – days before the Isis-inspired terror attack killed 130 people in the French capital. MI5 initially thought he was trying to reach Syria, which was later considered unlikely.
April 2016: Abedi revealed as ‘contact of a contact’ of an MI5 ‘subject’ suspected of funding an Isis fighter in Syria.
May 2016: Manchester Airport informs police after Abedi was spotted activating a boarding pass for a flight to Istanbul — a known transit point to Syria — alongside a suspicious person.
Early 2017: Two pieces of information received by MI5 about Abedi. He may have been thwarted if the intelligence was acted upon, the investigation concludes.
January 2017: Bomber appeared as a second-level contact of a person under investigation due to past trips to Syria and Isis links.
January 2017: He and two associates visit Abdallah in HMP Altcourse. MI5 is informed. That day, Abedi orders his first bomb-making chemicals.
March 2017: Abedi marked as a potential terrorist by a computer program of the security services, after information received in 2016.
April 2017: Abedi is being reclassified as a second-level contact on a subject under investigation for ties to a recruiter and facilitator for Isis in Libya.
May 2017: Salman Abedi is one of 26 individuals to be considered for further low-level investigation by MI5, with a meeting scheduled for May 31 to discuss his case. He detonates a bomb on May 22.
Anger from Arena families over MI5 mistakes
By James Tozer and Richard Marsden
The father of the youngest victim of last night’s Manchester Arena bombing rejected an apology from the head of MI5 for his spies’ missed opportunity to foil the plot.
In a rare statement on camera, the agency’s director general, Ken McCallum, said he was “deeply sorry” that the May 2017 attack, which claimed 22 lives, could not have been prevented.
But retired Supreme Court judge Sir John Saunders, who chaired the inquiry into the atrocity, yesterday accused MI5 of a “significant missed opportunity” to stop it, leaving loved ones of the victims furious.
Mr McCallum insisted there was only a ‘small chance’ officers could have learned that Salman Abedi was planning his attack when a concert by pop star Ariana Grande ended. But 49-year-old Andrew Roussos, whose eight-year-old daughter Saffie-Rose was one of the victims, said evidence showed MI5 had “lots of chances”.
Abedi had been on authorities’ radar at least 23 times since 2010.
Saffie-Rose Roussos: Eight years old, she was the youngest of the dead
Roussos said the report revealed a “catastrophic failure” by MI5 that showed the agency was “unfit to keep us safe and therefore not fit for purpose.”
“How can he apologize for losing my eight-year-old daughter when the evidence is so strong?” he told Sky News. In the apology, he says there was a small chance. I find that quite insulting when the evidence shows that from 2010 to 2017 they didn’t have a small chance, but a lot of chances.”
While thanking Sir John for his thoroughness, Mr Roussos said the report was not sufficiently hard-hitting.
He was speaking as bungling spies were also criticized by mothers of victims Liam Curry, 19, and his girlfriend Chloe Rutherford, 17, for ‘playing a role in our children’s murder’. Caroline Curry and Lisa Rutherford said they “can never forgive” the spy agency following the release of the third and final report of the public inquiry.
If MI5 had acted on two bits of intelligence they had been given and thus placed the bomber under surveillance, they could have uncovered his plan, Sir John said.
The nature of the information MI5 received on Abedi was provided to the investigation behind closed doors and so may never be made public. In an excoriating attack after the report was published, Ms Curry, 52, said: “From top to bottom, MI5 to the attacker’s associates, we will always believe you all played a part in the murder of our children.”
The first report, published in 2021, focused on security at the Arena, highlighting “missed opportunities” to identify Abedi as a threat before detonating his device.
The second, unveiled last November, showed how shocking failures by emergency services caused victims of the blast to ‘die unworthily’ – and said there was a chance that two, including Saffie-Rose, could have survived with better concern.
“So many people were paid that night to protect our children, yet so many failed in their duties,” said a tearful Mrs Curry of South Shields. ‘Professionals who had responsibility but clearly had other priorities. Security personnel who even when told about the danger did not act appropriately. Again, we’ll never forgive you.’ In addition to killing 22, plus Abedi, the backpack blast left hundreds injured.
Sir John highlighted how the two bits of information about Abedi leading up to the attack were assessed by MI5 as not related to terrorism – despite him being on the radar for seven years.
In private hearings, the spy involved admitted that they considered one to be a potentially pressing national security concern — but they didn’t immediately discuss it with colleagues or prepare a report on the same day.
In his 207-page report, Sir John said MI5 had not ‘acted quickly enough’ – and that the delay ‘resulted in missing an opportunity to take a potentially important investigative action’.
Abedi was then on a month-long trip to Libya, where Sir John concluded that he had received ‘specific training in assembling an IED (improvised explosive device)’.
Had the intelligence been investigated – which Sir John concluded ‘should have been done’ – Abedi could have been placed under surveillance on his return from Libya four days before the bombing.
In addition, spies may have followed Abedi to the car in which he hid a quantity of TATP, known as “Mother of Satan,” the explosive used in the bomb.
Had these steps taken place, the head of the investigation said, “the attack could have been prevented.”
Sir John said the threat posed by radicalized boys from Libyan families, such as Abedi and his brother Hashem, who are serving a life sentence with a minimum sentence of 55 years for aiding the attack, has been known since 2010.
The President’s recommendations to the security services will be published later in a confidential document. In response, Mr McCallum said: ‘I deeply regret that such information was not obtained. Gathering classified intelligence is difficult – but if we had managed to seize the small opportunity we had, perhaps those affected would not have experienced such terrible loss and trauma.
“I am deeply sorry that MI5 did not prevent the attack.”
He pledged to act on Sir John’s forthcoming recommendations, adding: ‘We will continue to do everything in our power to protect our country from hidden threats. MI5 exists to stop atrocities.’
Andy Burnham, Labor mayor of Greater Manchester, said the three parts showed that ‘the country was not prepared for such a terrorist attack in a city like ours’. And the Chief of Police for Counter Terrorism, Matt Jukes, said in 2017 that he was ‘sorry’ that despite the organisation’s ‘determined cooperation’ with MI5, ‘we have not stopped the loss of life’.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said the government was “determined to learn lessons from this investigation.”