An inquiry into the deadly 2017 Manchester Arena bombing has found that there was a “significant missed opportunity” by MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, to prevent the attack that killed 22 people and injured hundreds more.
The final report, which was released on Thursday, said that MI5 had failed to act on two crucial pieces of intelligence related to Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old suicide bomber, in the months leading up to the attack. The report rejected earlier claims by MI5 that the information was related to “nonterrorist criminality.”
The report stated that had MI5 acted on the intelligence, there was a “realistic possibility” it could have thwarted the attack. However, the inquiry’s chairman, Sir John Saunders, said that it was still “impossible” to determine whether or not the bombing could have been prevented.
The assessment drew anger from some of the victims’ families, with Richard Scorer, a lawyer representing 11 families, calling it a “devastating conclusion.”
The report found that MI5 failed to accurately assess the intelligence it had received regarding Abedi’s return from Libya just four days before the attack.
The inquiry stated that if MI5 had accurately assessed the intelligence, the agency could have placed Abedi under surveillance and possibly found the homemade explosive device he had stored in a car in Manchester.
MI5’s director general, Ken McCallum, said in a statement that he was “profoundly sorry” the agency had not been able to prevent the attack.
The inquiry also found that MI5 had failed to share crucial pieces of intelligence with counterterrorism police and that Abedi had most likely received assistance from someone in Libya.
This is the first time an official conclusion has been made regarding foreign help in the attack. MI5 had previously concluded that no one other than Abedi and his brother had knowingly been involved in the attack.
The independent inquiry, which was set up by the government in September 2020, included lawyers, victims’ family members, and emergency service groups. It had already published a scathing report on the failings of emergency services on the night of the attack.
The report concluded that the response had been “far below the standard it should have been” and that two victims could have survived had there not been an “interminable” wait for treatment.
The Manchester Arena bombing is the deadliest terrorist attack in Britain since the 2005 London bombings. The security services presented their timeline of events and evidence for the inquiry for months, with much of the information given behind closed doors for reasons of national security.
The final report, which is 226-pages long, observed a minute of silence before the chairman began speaking, with pictures of the smiling faces of the dead alongside him.