MANCHESTER: A NEW TERROR
With soldiers on the streets, Britain is on high alert after the Manchester attack. But the country and its security services will struggle to contain men like home-grown terrorist Salman Abedi
They do things their own way in Manchester – with their own mixture of warmth, wit and chippiness, even when it comes to grieving for the victims of a terrorist attack. The bombing at the Manchester Arena killed 22 people on Monday night.
It was no surprise when a fund to help the victims of the bombing received generous support, but only in Manchester would a crowdfunding effort to buy hospital workers a drink raise more than £ 10,000 in a matter of hours.
Businessman Ed Hall launched the appeal in the hope of putting £1,000 behind the bar at the Turing Tap, near the Manchester Royal Infirmary.
“I know alcohol isn’t the answer to the stress and trauma that the emergency services have experienced today, but it seems a simple and easy way to say thank you. Nothing we’ve done today will fix the damage, or lessen the pain of those directly affected, but emergency service and hospital workers should know that if we were there now, we would buy them a drink. Of course we would. Who wouldn’t?” he said.
Even the set-piece events had a distinct, Mancunian twist, as at the end of a minute’s silence in St Ann’s Square on Thursday morning, when a woman started singing the Oasis song Don’t Look Back in Anger, and slowly the entire crowd joined in. And at the official vigil in Albert Square on Tuesday, local poet Tony Walsh stole the show with a poem full of Manchester swagger, humour and vulnerable pride.
The sense of grief in the city deepened as the days went by and the names of those who died began to emerge.
For Eilidh MacLeod (14) and Laura MacIntyre (15) from the Gaelic-speaking island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, the trip to Manchester to see Ariana Grande was a reward for doing well in school. Eilidh’s mother went to Manchester with the girls and was waiting outside the arena to meet them after the concert.
Nuts and bolts
But as the girls moved through the foyer on their way out, 22- year- old Salman Abedi gripped a device in his left hand and detonated a bomb packed into a Karrimor rucksack. As the bomb packed with metal nuts and bolts exploded, Abedi’s torso was ripped from his body and flung across the foyer.
Laura was critically injured and Eilidh, who was at first described as missing, was later identified among the dead.
“Our family is devastated, and words cannot express how we feel at losing our darling Eilidh. Eilidh was vivacious and full of fun. She loved all music whether it was listening to Ariana or playing the bagpipes with her pipe band,” her parents said.
The 22 people Abedi killed on Monday night included a number of other teenagers, as well as an eight- year- old girl and some parents waiting to pick up their children from the concert.
Also among the dead was Martyn Hett (29) a PR manager who was at the concert with friends before heading to the United States for a two-month holiday. Hett, who described his interests as “strong women and low culture”, was so devoted to Coronation Street that he had a tattoo of Deirdre Barlow on his calf. His compilation of clips of the show’s hairdresser Audrey Roberts making involuntary noises was watched half a million times on YouTube.
Hett’s friend Russell Hayward is organising a vigil for him on Sunday. “He left the world exactly as he lived, centre of attention,” he said.
While Manchester remembered the vic- tims, one of those who died on Monday night remained unmourned – the killer himself. Born and raised in Manchester, Abedi lived on Elsmore Road, a narrow street of council houses in the south of the city.
The son of religious parents who fled the Gadafy regime in Libya, Abedi was a Manchester United fan who “drank and smoked weed”, according to one school friend and started a business course at Salford University which he later abandoned.
Britain’s security service MI5 became aware of Abedi five years ago when he was reported to have praised Islamist violence, but he was not kept under close surveillance. Defence analyst Christopher Lee, who has written extensively on British intelligence and counter- terrorism, is not surprised.
“If you get a name to follow and you’re in MI5, to do a 24- hour survey on this man, you’d need about a dozen people assigned to him at any one time. People are going to go home and eat, people will go on leave. So you don’t have the resources to follow up everybody,” he says.
Surveillance and resources
Such surveillance is more difficult outside London, where most special branch officers are concentrated. Prime minister Theresa May made the situation worse during her six years as home secretary when she cut police numbers by 20,000.
The Conservative government claims that technological surveillance means that fewer officers are needed, pointing out that MI5 has detected and prevented 188 major terrorist operations over the past three years. Lee agrees that technological surveillance is important but insists that cutting police numbers has a serious impact on intelligence gathering.
“Those 20,000 policemen aren’t just the foot soldiers throughout the country, they’re the eyes and ears,” he says.
“A cop goes around because of a disturbance and while he’s sorting that out, somebody says to him, ‘ by the way, those guys down the road, there’s something strange about them’. There is the funda-
Nothing we’ve done today will fix the damage, or lessen the pain of those affected, but emergency service and hospital workers should know that if we were there now, we would buy them a drink
mental of policing and that’s boots and ears on the ground. And there I think has been one of the weaknesses here.”
Police and MI5 knew immediately that the Manchester bombing was a more serious incident than other recent incidents, such as the Westminster attack in March. Most recent European attacks have been low- tech operations involving single attackers using simple weapons or vehicles to kill.
Abedi had used a sophisticated bomb which he was unlikely to have been able to make and detonate alone, so he must have been part of a network. The investigators feared that, if the bomb-maker was still at large, he could detonate further bombs before he was captured.
Within hours of the attack, Manchester police had blown open the door of Abedi’s redbrick semi- detached house and started searching it. His brother Ismail, who also lived in the house, was arrested outside a nearby supermarket and taken in for questioning.
Over the next few days, sirens screamed around Manchester as police burst into one house after another, arresting 10 people, two of whom have been released. Detectives, some dressed in white forensics suits, combed through each room looking for passports, bank accounts and other information about the occupants’ movements and associations. And they collected all the shoes.
“You must have all the shoes,” says Lee. “The soles tell you where people have been. They also tell if you haven’t just been locally. And then you’ve got eight people in the slammer at the moment, for example, and you’ve got all the shoes from each one of them.
“And suddenly you see that six of them have got shoes with something on the soles that you don’t know is local. Then you can start your interrogation process, or questioning process as it’s now called, and you can start piecing things together,” Lee says.
“Look in the travel documents, look for bank accounts, put the dogs in and start smelling out what chemicals have been used. Look for the sort of equipment you wouldn’t have in your house. It’s very small equipment but the average person doesn’t know how to solder, and if you see a bit of solder wire, you wonder why.”
Meanwhile, intelligence analysts started to piece together everything they had learned about Abedi since he had come to their attention at the age of 17. They soon put together a picture of his movements in recent weeks, including a visit to Libya, where his parents and younger brother live, taking a circuitous route back.
Abedi flew from Tripoli to Istanbul and then on to Dusseldorf, before returning to England. Libyan radicals often fly to England via Dusseldorf because passport control at that airport has the reputation of being among the easiest in Europe.
May stayed up all night after hearing about the attack in Manchester, taking a call from Jeremy Corbyn at 4am, when they agreed to suspend campaigning for the general election.
On Tuesday, she convened two meeti ngs of Cobra, t he government’s emergency response committee. The name stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, where the meetings are held, and the prime minister was joined by other ministers and officials from government departments, the military, the police and intelligence services.
At the second meeting on Tuesday evening, MI5 told May that a joint intelligence group had raised the security threat level to critical, the highest possible. This meant that the security services believed a second terrorist attack was imminent and it triggered the deployment of armed soldiers in support of the police.
Under a plan called Operation Temperer, the police can request the help of the army “in aid to the civil power” to protect up to 800 key places around the United Kingdom. Within hours, infantry soldiers wearing camouflage and carrying SA 80 rifles, were guarding Buckingham Palace, Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster.
Two weeks ahead of the general election, the heightened security alert has created a tense atmosphere, as hospitals across England were told to ensure they are prepared for another attack this weekend. The threat level is reviewed every six hours but only after the security services are satisfied that the network around Abedi has been neutralised will it be reduced.
Lee is confident that the police and MI5 will deal with the threat posed by Abedi’s network. But he notes that Abedi fits a pattern of home- grown terrorists whose underlying grievances society has been unable to address.
“They are disillusioned with the society in which they live and most importantly they are disillusioned by the way their parents live in that society.
“People come as refugees, thankful. You get a young guy, educated, doesn’t have a job and no matter how much you tell him we’ve done great things for you, [it doesn’t matter to him].
“He gets out of the Tube at Oxford Circus and he walks down the street and people look at him and say, ‘ Muslim’. It’s a question of identity in the end. Everybody knows that but there’s nothing you can do about it,” he says.
Main: Charlotte Campbell, mother of Manchester Arena attack victim Olivia Campbell and stepfather Paul Hodgson in St Ann’s Square, Manchester. Left, from top: Laura MacIntyre (15), from Barra in the Outer Hebrides, who is battling for her life after being injured in the attack; she travelled to the concert with her best friend Eilidh MacLeod (14), who lost her life; Martyn Hett (29) from Stockport and Courtney Boyle (19) from Gateshead both died in the attack.