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

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - De­nis Staunton in Manch­ester

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.”

Cir­cuitous route

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.

Civil power

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.

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