Friday 14 December 2018

Suicide bomber was saved by royal navy

The scene after the bombing at the Manchester Arena
The scene after the bombing at the Manchester Arena

Dean Gra

Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi was rescued by the British navy from fighting in Libya before flying back to Britain, three years ahead of his deadly attack, it has emerged.

The rescue of Abedi - who was known to the security services at the time of his trip to the war-torn country - enabled him to catch a flight home to the UK in August 2014, according to reports.

Nearly three years later he went on to carry out the deadliest UK terror attack for more than a decade when he set off a bomb at the Manchester Arena in May 2017, killing 22 people.

By the time of the bombing, security services were no longer monitoring him.

HMS Enterprise rescuing British citizens from Tripoli in 2014 – Manchester Arena suicide bomber Salman Abedi was among them. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright/PA
HMS Enterprise rescuing British citizens from Tripoli in 2014 – Manchester Arena suicide bomber Salman Abedi was among them. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright/PA

The revelation, reported in the 'Daily Mail', is likely to infuriate families who lost loved ones in the attack, and raises new fears over possible intelligence mistakes.

Abedi, then 19, was rescued from the Libyan coast by HMS Enterprise, according to the report, before being taken to Malta for his flight home.

His younger brother, Hashem, who is in jail in Tripoli facing trial over the attack, was also rescued by HMS Enterprise. It is understood they were part of a group of 100 British citizens rescued.

A Whitehall source told the 'Mail': "For this man to have committed such an atrocity on UK soil after we rescued him from Libya was an act of utter betrayal." The paper also quoted sources in London and family friends in Libya saying Salman Abedi was on HMS Enterprise.

The brothers regularly went to Libya from their home in Manchester as their parents, Ramadan and Samia, were both living in Libya.

Back in 2014, the country was in the grip of civil war. HMS Enterprise, a survey ship, was diverted from routine operations in the Mediterranean to head to Tripoli to pick up Britons after the ambassador closed down operations in the country.

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi. Photo: Greater Manchester Police/PA
Suicide bomber Salman Abedi. Photo: Greater Manchester Police/PA

Fighting around the capital was killing dozens every night, at a time when the Foreign Office was advising against all travel to Libya. Airlines had begun cancelling flights, while Michael Aron, the then British ambassador to Libya, was overseeing some of the evacuations.

The brothers were on holiday there at the time, and the royal navy was tasked with picking them up, along with other British nationals, on a list provided to sailors.

A review of his deadly attack by David Anderson QC found the bombing could have been averted "had the cards fallen differently". It emerged MI5 had planned to discuss the threat posed by him nine days after he launched his attack, after he was highlighted for discussion.

It was one of four terrorist attacks to strike Britain last year, and the review said MI5 had on two separate occasions received intelligence on Abedi "whose significance was not fully appreciated at the time".

It's understood Abedi's father had travelled back to Libya in time for the 2011 revolution, allegedly fighting against the Gaddafi regime with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. It is not certain whether the two brothers were with their father at the time of the revolution or in neighbouring Tunisia.

Senior security sources stressed they did not believe Abedi had been radicalised at the time of the navy rescue.

Salman, who was on a gap year from Manchester College at the time, went on to study business management at Salford University, before dropping out. He later became brainwashed after watching bomb-making videos on Google-owned YouTube and terror material on other internet sites, they believe.

"He was a British citizen so it was our job to safeguard him. Salman was one of many people in that mix and we absolutely had to evacuate him. He was not a threat at the time and it was in a very different context," one source told the 'Mail'.

However, Mr Anderson's report into the Manchester Arena attack found he had been first investigated in January 2014 - seven months before the rescue, when he was seen acting suspiciously with a "subject of interest" by police.

He then came to the attention of the authorities again in October 2015 because of his supposed contact with an Islamic State figure in Libya, but his file was closed once more.

A family friend was reportedly adamant that Abedi was there for innocent purposes, telling the paper: "Salman and Hashem were not involved in fighting at all and they had spent a lot of time with their mother in Tunisia."

The rescue operation saw UK citizens taken in small boats from the port of Tripoli to HMS Enterprise.

Irish Independent

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