After Manchester bombing, radicalisation questions remain
London - The police investigation into Manchester bomber Salman Abedi and the loose jihadist network that surrounded him continues. More than a dozen arrests have been made, more than 600 pieces of potential evidence have been processed and 3,000 lines of inquiry remain open.
However, persistent questions remain: How did he slip through the net? How can this be stopped from happening again?
Abedi was born in Manchester to Libyan parents. His father has links with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an Islamist militia with ties to al-Qaeda, the US State Department said. A university drop-out who had ties to local criminal gangs and was known to drink alcohol and smoke cannabis, Abedi was not particularly known for his piety during his early youth, media said.
However, after becoming radicalised a few years ago, Abedi became withdrawn, spending a lot of time in Libya and expanding his circle of acquaintances among jihadists in Manchester and beyond. So far, very typical.
At a time when there have been calls for Britain’s Muslim communities to take responsibility for radicals in their midst, though, it has emerged that Abedi was reported to the authorities for his radical views on multiple occasions by the local community, mosque and even family members.
Does this mean that the Manchester Arena attack was the result of an intelligence failure?
“It’s easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to argue that these warnings were opportunities to stop the bomber. However, it’s also possible that these warnings were followed up, surveillance was conducted, and nothing was discovered,” British media quoted Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute as saying.
“Authorities cannot keep monitoring a suspect indefinitely, given limited resources,” he added.
MI5 is conducting urgent investigations into how it missed the danger posed by Abedi, with observers anxiously waiting for the results and hoping for more government funding for Britain’s beleaguered police and security apparatus.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd acknowledged that Abedi was known to the authorities “up to a point.” He was one of potentially thousands of former “subjects of interest” whose risk remained “subject to review.”
It is also true that security authorities’ successes are never as widely reported as their failures. Eighteen terrorist plots have been foiled since 2013, including five since the Westminster attack in March, officials said. MI5 says it is managing about 500 active investigations.
If anything, the Manchester attack shows the difficulty in predicting how and when non-violent extremism switches into violent terrorism. There are probably tens of thousands of young British Muslims who broadly share Abedi’s background, few of whom will ever graduate to mass murder.
However, after Westminster and Manchester, and worsening terrorist atrocities on the European mainland, things cannot go on as they are.
“Calls for unity and calm are needed but we must also call at this time for things not to return to normal. If normal means regular unpredictable attacks by suspected jihadist terrorists against our children and youth at the dawn of their lives, then ‘normal’ must not be allowed to continue,” Haras Rafiq, chief executive of the counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, said in a news release.
Writing for the Conservation news website, University of Manchester Sociology Professor Hilary Pilkington called for a new discourse about radicalisation: “In the aftermath of the Manchester attack, we face difficult conversations. Just how do we marry the need for our young people to be safe with their right to live freely? How do we prevent violent extremism but avoid labelling and discriminating against communities who share those same aims? The answers are far from obvious. But silence is not an adequate response. It is time to talk.”