Picture emerges of ‘network’ behind Manchester bomber
London - Immediately after the Manchester Arena suicide bombing, there was speculation the attacker would turn out to be another “lone wolf” but it quickly became apparent that 22-year-old Salman Abedi fit a different profile.
Greater Manchester Police said it was “very clear” that Abedi was a member of a wider cell. “This is a network we are investigating,” said Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd agreed that it was very likely that Abedi did not act alone. “It was a devastating occasion. It was more sophisticated than some of the attacks we’ve seen before and, it seems likely, possible, that he wasn’t doing this on his own,” she said.
Greater Manchester Police confirmed that eight men, including Abedi’s older brother, were in custody in connection with the investigation. Abedi’s younger brother and father were arrested in Tripoli by a local militia, the Special Deterrence Forces, which is affiliated with the UN-backed Government of National Accord.
Abedi’s father, Ramadan, is said to have links to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate.
In a Facebook post, the militia claimed that Abedi’s younger brother Hashem was a member of the Islamic State (ISIS), had ties to the Manchester plot and had been planning an attack in Tripoli. The Special Deterrence Forces claim could not be immediately verified.
Britain raised its terror threat level to critical, meaning that an attack is considered “imminent,” leading observers to speculate that remnants of Abedi’s cell could try to carry out another attack.
Intelligence sources said they considered it unlikely that Abedi had constructed the bomb himself as it included materials that are hard to obtain in Britain and he carried out the attack a few days after returning from Tripoli. The fast pace of police raids possibly indicated the search for a bomb maker.
“They don’t waste bomb makers. The reason we have gone to critical is because he is still out there and there and the fear is that he will strike again before they get caught,” a police source told Manchester Evening News.
Since the Manchester Arena bombing, it has become increasingly clear that Abedi was no lone wolf. Given the sophistication of the attack and the acknowledgement that Abedi was “known” to the police and intelligence services, many are questioning how he slipped through the net. After confirmation that his college, mosque and some family members had warned police, such questions have only become louder.
The Manchester-born son of Libyan parents, Abedi is a second-generation immigrant who split his time between Britain and Libya. Those who knew him said Abedi drank, took drugs and had links to local criminal gangs before dropping out of university and becoming radicalised. This fits a profile of many second-generation terrorists in the West who struggle with issues of identity.
Abedi’s time in Libya, including reports that he took up arms during the 2011 Libyan revolution, could also point to a risk of radicalisation. French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said it was believed that Abedi had travelled to Syria and had “proven” links with ISIS.
Returning jihadists are an increasing problem for all of Europe. With ISIS facing defeat in Iraq and retreat in Syria, analysts have warned of the threat of an estimated 3,000 battle-hardened European jihadists bringing the war to continental cities.
“I think it will be a generation-long struggle that we face to absorb the return of thousands of foreign fighters, particularly to Western Europe,” Europol Director Rob Wainwright told the Wall Street Journal.
Local media reported that Abedi had ties to other jihadists, including Raphael Hostey, an ISIS recruiter known as Abu Qaqa al-Britani, who fought in Syria. A family friend confirmed that Abedi was in contact with Abdal Raouf Abdallah, a 24-year-old British-Libyan from Manchester who took part in the 2011 Libyan uprising and was convicted in 2016 of preparing acts of terrorism.
“The key element in any radicalisation is usually exposure to extremist activities and ideas through peers, not ‘brainwashing’ by a distant operative,” wrote security expert Jason Burke in the Guardian newspaper.
“Not only are there almost no true ‘lone wolves’ but there are few examples of individuals who have succeeded in making a lethal explosive device by themselves,” he said.
As the picture continues to emerge and more arrests are made, it is clear that Abedi was not a lone wolf; he fits a more dangerous profile.