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Manchester Arena attack 'could have been stopped'

Manchester Arena attack 'could have been stopped'
From BBC - December 5, 2017

The Manchester Arena bomber had been a "subject of interest" and opportunities to stop him were missed, a review says.

Its author, David Anderson QC, said it was conceivable Salman Abedi's attack, which killed 22 people, could have been avoided had "cards fallen differently".

But he said it was "unknowable" whether reopening investigations into Abedi would have thwarted his plans, adding: "MI5 assesses that it would not."

Greater Manchester Police said its officers would "never stop learning".

After the Manchester bombing and three terror attacks in London this year, counter-terror police and MI5 conducted internal reviews. Mr Anderson carried out an independent assessments of their findings.

The reviews, which remain largely secret, are summarised in Mr Anderson's report, and show:

The reviews also showed the two other attackers who had been on MI5's radar were Khuram Butt, the leader of the London Bridge and Borough Market attack, and Khalid Masood who targeted Westminster Bridge in March.

Butt had been identified by MI5 and the police as someone who wanted to attack the UK two years earlier.

He was still a "live subject of interest" who was under investigation at the time of the attack, though more for his intention to travel to Syria and for radicalising others.

He was also the main target of "Operation Hawthorn" - but this was suspended twice because of a lack of resources after the Bataclan attack in Paris and the Westminster Bridge attack.

Operation Hawthorn had resumed and was running on the day Butt attacked.

Mr Anderson, a former independent reviewer of terror legislation, said: "Despite elevated threat levels, the fundamentals are sound and the great majority of attacks continue to be thwarted.

"But the shock of these incidents has prompted intensive reflection and a commitment to significant change.

"In particular, MI5 and the police have identified the need to use data more effectively, to share knowledge more widely, to improve their own collaboration and to assess and investigate terrorist threats on a uniform basis, whatever the ideology that inspires them."

Could MI5 really have stopped the attacks?

By Dominic Casciani, BBC home affairs correspondent

It says not - but Mr Anderson believes there were opportunities. Given the scale of terrorism-related activity since 2013 - when the Syria crisis gave a boost to recruitment in the UK - there is no doubt that the security service has been juggling a huge numbers of cases.

The real question is whether the manpower is matched with the right data tools and relationships with other bodies to stop more of the threats before it is too late.

Data analysis will play an increasingly important role in trying to spot individuals who may pose a threat after years of being quiet.

Perhaps the most important change to come is that MI5 may be told to share some of what it knows with other agencies - such as local councils - in the hope that people on the ground can provide the missing piece of information they need to disrupt a threat.

This raises huge cultural challenges for an organisation that necessarily operates below the radar.

Read more of Dominic's analysis

Terror attacks this year

'Spinning plates'

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