With each passing day since the Manchester suicide bombing, as more details come to light of the terrorist Salman Abedi’s links with a broad ISIS network, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government of British Prime Minister Theresa May, as well as the British secret services, face their biggest security and intelligence crisis in the war on terror.
Their actions on Thursday, May 25, showed that Britain’s political and security authorities were doing their best to avoid being questioned about who deserves blame for allowing the attack, which claimed the lives of 22 people and injured more than 60. One such maneuver was to try and point the finger at President Donald Trump’s administration after photos showing debris from the bomb were leaked to US media from the investigation.
This was followed by expressions of outrage and reports that Britain was halting its intelligence sharing with the US. It was subsequently explained that it was only the Manchester police which had stopped transferring intelligence to their US counterparts, while other sharing continued. President Donald Trump said later the leaks were “deeply troubling” and asked the US Justice Department and other agencies to launch a full investigation.
These events were peripheral to the real question of how 22-year-old Salman Abadi, who had once been on an intelligence watch list, had been able to operate unnoticed by the security authorities, build several bombs, bring one of them to the intended target – a pop concert at the Manchester Arena – and detonate it without being stopped.
British media Thursday reported police certainty that a terror network operated within Manchester and that Abedi was nothing more than a “mule” whose entire role was to carry the explosive device and detonate it.
But a statement on Wednesday by French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb that Abedi had travelled to Syria to meet with ISIS figures, and leaks on Thursday from German intelligence that the bomber flew from Turkey to the city of Dusseldorf four days before the attack, showed Abedi in a much more central role in a terror network that spanned a number of countries in Europe and the Middle East.
Dusseldorf was also the home of Tunisian terrorist Anis Amri, who carried out the December 2016 truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that left 12 dead and 48 wounded.
In that context, the next question is: How did the bomber’s name come to disappear from the terrorist watch list that prevents suspects from boarding international flights?
There is also the question of how the security services failed to notice the ability of the bomber or his network to build a new generation of small but powerful explosives capable of causing massive slaughter.
One of the main reasons the British were so angry over the leaks was that it demonstrated how easy it was to build such bombs as the one used in Manchester, There is no need to manufacture them at secret venues in faraway Yemen, or smuggle them in pieces aboard planes. They can be built in the kitchens of rented apartments in Western Europe’s main cities, as in the case of the Manchester bomb.
Even worse, if Abadi was trained to build bombs, many other members of his network may have received the same training.
The big holes exposed in Britain’s counterterror system undoubtedly beset other European countries laboring to contend with the Islamic terror threat.
The tragedy at Manchester Arena dominated the NATO 28-member summit taking place in Brussels Thursday. There was a minute’s silence for the victims, many of them children, and all-round condemnation by leaders who have no notion when the Islamist terror hammer will descend on their own people.