Monday 24 July 2017

Bomber used student loans and benefits to bankroll plot

Police investigating Salman Abedi's murky finances reveal funding, write Robert Mendick and Victoria Ward

Robert Mendick and Victoria Ward

The Manchester suicide bomber used UK taxpayer-funded student loans and benefits to bankroll the terror plot, police believe.

Salman Abedi is under-stood to have received thousands of pounds in State funding in the run-up to last Monday's atrocity even while he was overseas receiving bomb-making training.

Police are investigating Abedi's finances, including how he paid for frequent trips to Libya where he is thought to have been taught to make bombs at a jihadist training camp.

It comes as Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, Britain's most senior counter-terrorism officer, said detectives had made "immense progress" in dismantling Abedi's terror network.

In further developments, a barber shop in Manchester was raided, with one theory being that Abedi might have obtained hydrogen peroxide - a chemical used in the hairdressing industry but which can also be used to construct bombs - from the salon.

Abedi's finances are a major theme of the police inquiry amid growing alarm over the ease with which jihadists are able to manipulate Britain's welfare and student loans system to secure financing.

One former detective said jihadists were enrolling on university courses to collect student loans "often with no intention of turning up".

Abedi was given at least £7,000 (€8,000) from the taxpayer-funded Student Loans Company after beginning a business administration degree at Salford University in October 2015.

It is thought he received a further £7,000 in the 2016 academic year even though by then he had already dropped out of the course. Salford University declined to say if it had informed the Student Loans Company that Abedi's funding should have been stopped.

Separately, the Department for Work and Pensions refused to say if Abedi had received any benefits, including housing benefit and income support worth up to £250 a week, during 2015 and 2016. It would only say he was not claiming benefits in the weeks before the attack.

Abedi (22) never held down a job, according to neighbours and friends, but was able to travel regularly between the UK and Libya.

He also had sufficient funds to buy materials for his sophisticated bomb while living in a rented house in south Manchester.

Six weeks before the bombing, Abedi rented a second property in a block of flats in Blackley, eight miles from his home, paying £700 in cash.

He had enough money to rent a third property in the centre of Manchester from where he set off with a backpack containing the bomb.

Abedi also withdrew £250 in cash three days before the attack and transferred £2,500 to his younger brother Hashim in Libya, who is accused of knowing about the attack in advance.

A Student Loans Company spokesman said: "It would not be appropriate for the Student Loans Company to respond to media requests for information that may be relevant to the ongoing police investigation.

"It is for universities to inform the Student Loans Company when students withdraw or suspend their studies, at which point funding stops."

A Salford University spokesman, asked if it had told the Student Loans Company that Abedi had dropped out, said: "We cannot comment."

David Videcette, a former Metropolitan Police detective who worked on the 7/7 London bombing investigation, said of the student loans system: "It is an easy way for a terrorist to move forward and finance their activities at the expense of the taxpayer.

"All you have got to do is get yourself into university and then off you go. Often they have got no intention of turning up."

Professor Anthony Glees, director of Buckingham University's Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, said: "The British system makes funds readily available to jihadist students without checks on them. There needs to be an inquiry into this."

The British government has previously admitted it has no idea how many terrorists could be using taxpayer-funded benefits and student loans to finance their activities.

Two men were convicted at the end of 2016 of channelling thousands of pounds of fraudulent housing benefits to the Islamist fanatics behind the Paris and Brussels terrorist outrages.

Mohamed Abrini, the Brussels terror suspect dubbed the 'Man in the Hat', received £3,000 in fraudulent housing benefit.

In the early hours of yesterday the police made fresh arrests in the Manchester bombing probe after officers carried out a controlled explosion during a raid on an address in the Cheetham Hill area of the city.

Two men aged 20 and 22 were held on suspicion of terror offences.

©Telegraph

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