In Final Report, UK Inquiry Finds ‘Significant Opportunity’ Missed to Prevent Ariana Grande Bombing
A suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured hundreds more in the 2017 terror attack at Manchester Arena.
LONDON — Security services could have prevented a suicide bomber from killing 22 people in a terror attack outside an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in 2017 if they had acted swiftly on key intelligence, a public inquiry has found.
The chair of the inquiry, John Saunders, says there was a “realistic possibility” that the bomber could have been stopped from carrying out the atrocity if British security service MI5 had acted decisively upon on two pieces of intelligence that they received in the months leading up to the attack. The significance of that intelligence, Saunders notes, “was not fully appreciated at the time.”
A 207-page report, published Thursday (March 2), details the radicalization of bomber Salman Abedi but does not disclose details of either piece of intelligence, citing national security reasons. It does, however, state that neither piece of intelligence was shared by MI5 with counter-terror police — a failing that Saunders calls “a further example of a communication breakdown” between security agencies.
The inquiry found that an MI5 officer, identified as Witness C, failed to write a report on the second piece of intelligence on the same day MI5 assessed it and did not discuss it with colleagues. That delay “led to the missing of an opportunity to take a potentially important investigative action.”
Abedi flew from Libya to Manchester on May 18 — four days before he detonated a homemade explosive device in the foyer of Manchester Arena (now known as the AO Arena) at the end of Grande’s sold-out show. Twenty-two people died in the terror attack, the youngest aged 8 years old. Hundreds of people were injured, many of them children.
The report contends that had MI5 taken the intelligence more seriously Abedi could have been stopped at Manchester Airport upon his return from Libya and followed to his car where he had stored his explosives.
In a press conference in Manchester on Thursday, Saunders said the “failure by the security service to act swiftly enough” had contributed to a “significant missed opportunity to take action that might have prevented the attack.”
The inquiry chair went on to say that while “it is not possible to reach any conclusion on the balance of probability” as to whether the bombing would have been prevented, he believed “there was a realistic possibility that actionable intelligence could have been obtained which might have led to actions preventing the attack.”
The report also found that Abedi’s family held “significant responsibility” for the radicalization of both him and his brother, Hashem Abedi, who was sentenced in the U.K. in 2020 to a minimum of 55 years for his role in the murders.
Thursday’s report is the third and final set of findings to come out of the public inquiry into the terror attack. The U.K. Home Secretary launched the inquiry in October 2019 with its first hearings taking place in Manchester in September 2020. In total, more than 250 witnesses gave 194 days of oral evidence, although much of the evidence from MI5 and counter-terror police officers was heard in secret.
The inquiry’s two previous reports have focused on how emergency services responded to the attack and whether police and concert security should have done more to prevent the bombing.
Families of the victims called the failures exposed in Thursday’s report “unacceptable” and a “devastating conclusion” to the inquiry. “Those killed and injured in this murderous attack had every right to feel safe and protected, but as this inquiry has demonstrated, they were failed at every level — before, during and after this horrific attack,” said Richard Scorer, principal lawyer at Slater and Gordon, reading out a statement on behalf of 11 of the victims’ families.
Andrew Roussos, the father of 8-year-old Saffie-Rose Roussos, who was one of the 22 victims, said the security services’ actions amounted to a “cataclysmic failure.”
“The fact that MI5 failed to stop [Salman Abedi] despite all of the red flags available demonstrates they are not fit to keep us safe and therefore not fit for purpose,” said Roussos.
Following the report’s publication, MI5’s director general, Ken McCallum, said he was “profoundly sorry” that the security service did not prevent the attack. “Gathering covert intelligence is difficult,” McCallum said in a statement, “but had we managed to seize the slim chance we had, those impacted might not have experienced such appalling loss and trauma.”