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The Manchester Arena Inquiry has now concluded. The closure notice from the Inquiry Chairman is available here.

Volume Three: Radicalisation and Preventability
Volume Three: Radicalisation and Preventability (20pt version)

Period before departure for Libya

Learning how to build the device

In November 2016, Islamic State published on the internet a video which described and demonstrated in detail how to make an explosive called triacetone triperoxide (TATP). This was the explosive that SA and HA used in the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) they constructed. The video went on to set out how to incorporate the TATP into an IED. Operation Manteline’s investigation concluded that the similarities between the device SA detonated and the one set out in the video “are remarkable”.4

The video provided clear instructions on a step‑by‑step basis.5 The video began with the presenter addressing the viewer. The presenter was dressed in a balaclava and camouflage combat clothing. He stated:
“Praise is due to Allah, who aided the obedient mujahid … My muwahhid brother, today, by Allah’s permission, we will learn how to make simple explosive substances with common ingredients, and which you can make in your own home using simple tools. This is the substance known as acetone peroxide, commonly known as white ice.”6

There is no direct evidence on the electronic devices seized by Operation Manteline that SA and/or HA watched this video. However, only two of the 14 electronic devices used by SA and HA were recovered.7

I find that the timing of this video and the techniques shown in it make it likely that SA and HA did watch this video, or a very similar video, towards the end of 2016.8

Triacetone triperoxide

TATP is an extremely sensitive, primary high explosive. That means it is a material that will undergo a detonation and produce a shockwave when the explosive functions, to create a blast. It is highly sensitive to detonation. Detonation can occur as a result of friction, impact, heat or spark. It is unstable. It has no commercial use.9

The video I described at paragraphs 23.7 to 23.10 provided instructions which the evidence uncovered by the criminal investigation indicates that SA and HA followed. This provides further support for my conclusion that it is likely that SA and HA watched that video or a very similar one.

TATP is made up of hydrogen peroxide, an acetone and an acid. These are sometimes referred to as ‘precursor chemicals’. Hydrogen peroxide is commonly used as a bleaching agent and disinfectant. Acetone is widely available. It is used as a solvent. Sulphuric acid can be used as the third ingredient. It can be found in car batteries.10

Operation Manteline was not able to determine exactly how much TATP was used in the device detonated by SA. An amount in the low kilograms is the best guess that science is able to make.11

TATP leaves a trace if it comes into contact with another item. However, that trace may not last very long because of the nature of TATP. Traces of TATP were recovered by the investigators from a number of places in Manchester where SA and HA were known to have been: Flat 74, Somerton Court; a Nissan Micra recovered by the police from the car park of Devell House; and the basement and Flat 39 at Granby House.12 I will deal with the significance of each place in the paragraphs below.

Addresses used by SA and HA

SA and HA used a number of properties that were not obviously linked to them for their plot: one to manufacture the TATP;13 one for the delivery of a precursor chemical;14 and one to store the TATP and other items while SA was in Libya.15

By taking all of these steps, SA and HA were seeking to protect themselves against discovery.

Figure 44 shows the locations of the key addresses used in the plot.

Figure 44: Key locations used by SA and HA16

21 Elsmore Road

As I set out in Part 22, 21 Elsmore Road was the Abedi family home. Operation Manteline discovered a number of items relevant to the plot at this location.

Flat 74, Somerton Court

In 2016–17, Aimen Elwafi was the tenant of Flat 74, Somerton Court, Manchester. In November 2016, Aimen Elwafi advertised the subletting of this flat on Facebook. HA contacted Aimen Elwafi on 18th February 2017. Aimen Elwafi explained to Operation Manteline investigators that SA and HA came to view the flat and had moved in by the end of February 2017 after paying two months’ rent in cash.17

Traces of TATP were recovered from Flat 74, Somerton Court.18 Operation Manteline concluded that the TATP used in the bomb was manufactured at this address.19 SA and HA used Flat 74, Somerton Court for this purpose until 14th April 2017.20

44 Lindum Street

In 2017, the registered occupier of 44 Lindum Street, Manchester, was Ahmed Hamad. Ahmed Hamad was a family friend of the Abedis. At this time, he was in Libya. Ahmed Hamad provided a key for 44 Lindum Street to Ahmed Dughman so that Ahmed Dughman could check the property and collect post.21

On 17th March 2017, Ahmed Dughman received a telephone call from Ahmed Hamad. Ahmed Hamad informed Ahmed Dughman that SA and HA needed access to stay at the address for a week as they had visitors at their own house. Later that day, either SA or HA contacted Ahmed Dughman and collected the key. The key was returned to Ahmed Dughman about one week later.22

Number 44 Lindum Street was used as a delivery address for the hydrogen peroxide acquired by SA and HA in mid to late March 2017.23

Devell House

In April 2017, Elyas Blidi lived at Devell House, Manchester. He was arrested as part of Operation Manteline on the same day the police discovered the Nissan Micra that had been used to store the TATP at Devell House. Elyas Blidi told Operation Manteline investigators that his friend Elyas Elmehdi had given SA permission to park a vehicle at Devell House.24 As I set out in Part 22, Elyas Elmehdi was a friend of SA’s. I will deal further with the Nissan Micra at paragraphs 23.64 to 23.74.

Elyas Elmehdi was arrested the day after Elyas Blidi, as part of Operation Manteline. He gave the same account to the police as Elyas Blidi had.25 The CCTV at Devell House captured Elyas Elmehdi approaching the Nissan Micra on 21st May 2017.26 That was two days after SA had removed the TATP stored in it. I will address this removal at paragraphs 23.97 to 23.99. Elyas Elmehdi left the country following his interview with the police. At the time that DCS Barraclough gave evidence to the Inquiry, in December 2020, Elyas Elmehdi remained a suspect in the Operation Manteline investigation.

Flat 39, Granby House

When SA returned to the UK on 18th May 2017, he rented Flat 39, Granby House, Granby Row, Manchester. It was here that he constructed the bomb. I will consider this in greater detail at paragraphs 23.86 to 23.124.

First steps in constructing the device

Between 2015 and January 2017, HA was employed at a takeaway by Relative B.27 Relative B is a relative of Trial Witness 2. As part of their business, Relative B purchased oil in 20‑litre steel cans. In late 2016, HA asked if he could take the oil cans away. HA claimed that he wanted to trade them as scrap metal. Relative B said that he could. As a result, HA took a number of oil cans away.28

Parts of a number of oil cans were recovered from SA’s and HA’s home address at 21 Elsmore Road, Manchester.29 Several were those which Relative B had said HA could take away.30

SA and HA used parts of the oil cans in the construction of the bomb.31

Acquisition of precursor chemicals

Between early January 2017 and 6th April 2017, SA and HA acquired the hydrogen peroxide and sulphuric acid they used to create TATP. They took a number of carefully considered steps to avoid detection. Not all of their efforts resulted in them acquiring chemicals.

Availability of precursor chemicals

One of the four strands of the government’s CONTEST strategy in place at the time was Protect. The Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives/ Science and Technology Unit (CBRNE/S&TU) formed part of Protect. CBRNE/ S&TU’s role included closing down opportunities for people to obtain harmful materials.32

One of the ways in which the obtaining of harmful materials was controlled was through a system of regulation created by the Poisons Act 1972 and the Control of Poisons and Explosives Precursors Regulations 2015. This system imposed a requirement to hold a licence for the importing, acquisition, possession and use of the most frequently misused precursor chemicals in concentrations greater than the specified thresholds. These were known as regulated explosive precursors. There was a requirement for robust background checks to be undertaken on those applying for a licence for regulated explosive precursors.33

In 2017, hydrogen peroxide, at concentrations above a particular level, was a regulated explosive precursor. Sulphuric acid was not. This changed in 2018, when sulphuric acid was added to the list of regulated explosive precursors.34 The concentration levels of the hydrogen peroxide purchased on behalf of SA and HA, as I will set out in paragraphs 23.53 to 23.61, were below the level at which a licence was required.35

An additional safeguard existed. This required those selling certain chemicals, at any concentration, to make a Suspicious Activity Report in relation to any transaction they believed to be suspicious. These chemicals were known as reportable precursors.36

Hydrogen peroxide and sulphuric acid were both reportable precursors. No Suspicious Activity Reports were made in relation to any of the precursor chemical purchases made on behalf of SA and HA.37

Acquisition of acetone

The Operation Manteline investigation was unable to evidence the purchase of acetone. It is widely available and most commonly known as a key ingredient in nail polish remover.38

Acquisition of sulphuric acid

Trial Witness 4

In early January 2017, HA asked Trial Witness 4 to buy a “liquid”39 that HA claimed was for a battery. HA asked Trial Witness 4 to arrange for the liquid to be delivered to an Amazon locker. Trial Witness 4 refused HA’s request. They told HA to undertake the purchase himself.40

Trial Witness 2

At some point in early 2017, HA asked Trial Witness 2 to buy him some acid. Trial Witness 2 is a relative of Relative B. HA claimed that he needed it for a generator in Libya. HA claimed that his bank card did not work. Trial Witness 2 understood that HA wanted a large amount of this acid. Trial Witness 2 undertook some research on the internet. He decided he would not help HA.41

Alharth Forjani

On 18th January 2017, Alharth Forjani’s Amazon account was used to purchase a quantity of sulphuric acid. Alharth Forjani is a maternal cousin of SA and HA. The sulphuric acid was delivered to Alharth Forjani’s home address on 24th January 2017.42

In a witness statement given to Operation Manteline investigators, Alharth Forjani stated that HA had asked to use his Amazon account as HA’s own bank card had been blocked by the bank. Alharth Forjani stated that HA had said he needed the sulphuric acid for a car battery. Alharth Forjani stated that he told HA when the sulphuric acid was delivered and that HA attended the following day to collect it.43 Operation Manteline examined Alharth Forjani’s account and established it was broadly consistent with other evidence obtained.44

Relative C

On 2nd March 2017, Relative C’s Amazon account was used to purchase a quantity of sulphuric acid. Relative C is a relative of Trial Witness 3. The sulphuric acid was delivered to Relative C’s house on 9th March 2017.45

In an interview with the Operation Manteline investigators, Relative C gave a broadly similar account to Alharth Forjani of how they had become involved.46

Shield Batteries

On 3rd March 2017, HA telephoned Shield Batteries, Viaduct Street, Manchester. Shield Batteries is a UK battery manufacturer and distributor. HA said that he wanted to buy an absorbent glass mat (AGM) gel battery. This is a specialist industrial battery. He claimed that he needed it for a motorhome or caravan. The person he spoke to explained that the battery in question was not appropriate, but HA was insistent. A price of £300 was quoted for the battery.47

Later that day, HA attended Shield Batteries and paid for the AGM gel battery with his mother Samia Tabbal’s bank card. HA transported the AGM gel battery away in a Toyota Aygo,48 the relevance of which I will explain in paragraph 23.52.

This appears to have been a further attempt by SA and HA to obtain sulphuric acid. If it was, it was likely to have been unsuccessful, despite the amount of money paid. This was because the AGM gel battery was a sealed battery with no liquid acid inside. Specialist knowledge and laboratory equipment is required to extract liquid acid from it.49

Trial Witness 1

On 9th March 2017, HA asked Trial Witness 1 to purchase some acid for him. HA claimed to Trial Witness 1 that the acid was required for an electricity generator in Libya. HA sent Trial Witness 1 a link to the item he wanted them to buy him.50

Trial Witness 1 spoke to their father about the proposed purchase. Trial Witness 1’s father told Trial Witness 1 that the transaction was “dodgy”.51 He advised Trial Witness 1 not to be involved. As a result, Trial Witness 1 did not complete the transaction. HA telephoned Trial Witness 1 a number of times around 12th March 2017, but Trial Witness 1 did not speak to him.52

Mohammed Soliman

On 15th March 2017, Mohammed Soliman’s Amazon account was used to purchase ten litres of sulphuric acid for £128.46. Mohammed Soliman was a friend of HA. The sulphuric acid was delivered to Mohammed Soliman’s house on 21st March 2017.53

In a witness statement provided to the Inquiry, Mohammed Soliman stated that £140 had been deposited into his account by HA. He stated that HA did this following a conversation in which HA asked to use Mohammed Soliman’s bank card to buy car engine oil worth £120. He described HA as persisting in this request. He stated that his mobile phone was used by HA to make the purchase. He said that he did not know that sulphuric acid had been bought by HA. He denied knowledge of SA and HA’s extremism. He denied knowing what HA was intending to use the purchase for.54

On 23rd March 2017, Mohammed Soliman was the subject of a stop at Manchester Airport, pursuant to Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This stop generated intelligence that Mohammed Soliman had purchased a quantity of sulphuric acid. However, there was nothing in the intelligence to link it to SA or HA. No connection was made before the Attack. Mohammed Soliman left the UK on 10th April 2017. He was out of the country at the time of the Attack.55

In January 2017, HA acquired a Toyota Aygo car. On 23rd March 2017, the Toyota Aygo was involved in a road traffic collision. The Toyota Aygo was abandoned. It was recovered and scrapped. Eyewitness evidence suggests that there may have been a box or boxes in the Toyota Aygo when it was abandoned. That eyewitness evidence was also to the effect that there was an attempt by the occupants of the car to remove the label or labels from the box or boxes while the car was being abandoned. This would be consistent with the Toyota

Aygo being used to transport the sulphuric acid delivered on 21st March 2017 to Flat 74, Somerton Court. No sulphuric acid was recovered from the vehicle during the recovery and scrapping process.56

Acquisition of hydrogen peroxide

Zuhir Nassrat

On 19th March 2017, Zuhir Nassrat’s Amazon account was used in an attempt to purchase 15 litres of hydrogen peroxide. Zuhir Nassrat was a friend of SA’s and HA’s. The transaction did not complete due to a lack of funds in Zuhir Nassrat’s bank account.57 The intended delivery address was 44 Lindum Street, Manchester, the relevance of which address I dealt with at paragraphs 23.22 to 23.24.

On 20th March 2017, Zuhir Nassrat’s Amazon account was used in two attempts to purchase a quantity of hydrogen peroxide. Two different Amazon sellers were involved. The intended delivery address in each case was 44 Lindum Street. Again, neither transaction completed due to a lack of funds in Zuhir Nassrat’s bank account.58

In an account provided to the Operation Manteline investigators, Zuhir Nassrat stated that HA had approached him and asked to use his bank account in order to purchase a present for HA’s mother. Zuhir Nassrat agreed to do this and provided his bank and card details. He stated that he had no knowledge that his card would be used in attempts to purchase hydrogen peroxide. He denied any knowledge of the Attack.59

Yaya Werfalli

On 22nd March 2017, Yaya Werfalli’s Amazon account was used to purchase a quantity of hydrogen peroxide. Yaya Werfalli was a friend of SA’s and HA’s. On 31st March 2017, the hydrogen peroxide was delivered to 44 Lindum Street, Manchester.60

On 24th March 2017, HA acquired a second vehicle to replace the Toyota Aygo, which had been abandoned the day before. This second vehicle was a Hyundai Sonata. It is likely that the Hyundai Sonata was used in connection with a further order of hydrogen peroxide four days later.61

On 28th March 2017, Yaya Werfalli’s Amazon account was used in an attempt to purchase a quantity of hydrogen peroxide. The intended delivery address was 44 Lindum Street. The transaction did not complete. The attempt had been made from an Internet café on Claremont Road in Manchester at 16:30. The Hyundai activated a nearby automatic number plate recognition camera shortly before this time and appears to have been used to travel to the café.62

On 3rd April 2017, Yaya Werfalli’s Amazon account was used to purchase a quantity of hydrogen peroxide. On 6th April 2017, the hydrogen peroxide was delivered to 44 Lindum Street.63 The email address used in connection with this purchase was “bedab7jeana”. This translates as “we have come to slaughter”.64 A piece of paper with this email address written on it by hand was recovered by Operation Manteline from 21 Elsmore Road, the home address of the Abedis.65

An examination of Yaya Werfalli’s mobile phone revealed that he had provided his Amazon and bank account details to SA and HA because he thought he was involving himself in a fraud. He confirmed that this was the case when interviewed by Operation Manteline investigators.66

Yaya Werfalli was charged with two offences contrary to the Fraud Act 2006, arising out of his involvement in the transactions set out at paragraphs 23.56 to 23.59. He pleaded guilty. On 26th November 2020, he was sentenced to a community order with a number of requirements. The Judge passed sentence on the following basis, which accords with the evidence I received:
“What is clear however is that you in March and April 2017 had no idea about what the Abedi brothers were up to, you had no idea what they intended to purchase … and you had no idea that they were plotting mass murder.”67

Sulphuric acid and hydrogen peroxide acquired by SA and HA

The above transactions meant that, by 7th April 2017, SA and HA had acquired a significant quantity of both sulphuric acid and hydrogen peroxide.

In fact, not all of the sulphuric acid or hydrogen peroxide was used in the creation of the TATP. For example, when Aimen Elwafi cleared out Flat 74, Somerton Court, he disposed of a number of items, including bottles of liquid that are likely to have contained such chemicals, which SA and HA had left behind.68

Transporting the TATP to Devell House

On 13th April 2017, SA and HA purchased a Nissan Micra through a private sale.69 Ahmed Taghdi travelled to the place where this car was sold from in the company of SA and HA.

As part of its investigation, Operation Manteline painstakingly reconstructed how the TATP was transported from Flat 74, Somerton Court to Devell House the following day from a variety of evidential sources. I shall set out some of the detail of the investigation’s findings as it illustrates the efforts to which SA and HA went in order to avoid detection.

At around 23:00 on 14th April 2017, both SA and HA were at home at 21 Elsmore Road, Manchester. Shortly after that time, they set out from there in the Nissan Micra. Their first destination was Flat 74, Somerton Court.70 The exact time of SA and HA’s arrival at Somerton Court is not known. At 23:34, SA telephoned a taxi company. It is likely that SA discussed making arrangements for a taxi to come to Somerton Court. Shortly after that call had ended, SA called Elyas Elmehdi. It is likely that this call was about arranging for the use of a space in the car park at Devell House.71

At 00:01 on 15th April 2017, SA contacted the same taxi company again. He requested to be picked up from Flat 72, Somerton Court. By 00:06, SA and HA were no longer together, although both were still in the vicinity of Somerton Court.72

At 00:17, the taxi arrived at Somerton Court. Four minutes later, SA got into the taxi. He was carrying two bags and two cardboard boxes. He asked to be taken to the Rusholme area of Manchester. He indicated that he would tell the taxi driver where to drop him off.73

HA remained at Somerton Court for a period of time. At 00:34, SA called HA. By this point, SA was travelling through Manchester City Centre. Three minutes later, HA called SA back. One minute after that, HA set off from Somerton Court in the Nissan Micra. By 00:41, SA was close to Devell House. He texted HA. One minute later, he called Aimen Elwafi. This call was most likely intended to inform Aimen Elwafi that the flat at Somerton Court was no longer occupied.74

The taxi containing SA continued past Devell House by some distance. At 00:50, it stopped and waited in the Withington area of Greater Manchester. Three minutes later, HA was in the vicinity of Devell House. The brothers spoke on the telephone. The taxi turned around and travelled back to Devell House.75

At 01:08, SA instructed the taxi driver to stop on Banff Road, a couple of streets away from Devell House. Three minutes later, HA pulled the Nissan Micra up behind the taxi. SA got out of the taxi and put the two bags and the two boxes he had with him into the Nissan Micra. SA paid the taxi driver and joined HA in the Nissan Micra.76

The Nissan Micra was subsequently parked in the car park at Devell House. It contained the TATP and other items SA and HA had acquired as part of their plot.77

It is apparent from what is now known that SA and HA took a number of measures designed to avoid detection.

First, they split the items they had at Somerton Court between the Nissan Micra and the taxi. It is likely that this was to minimise the impact of any intervention by the police should they be caught in transit. Quite aside from their plot, there was a risk that the Micra might be stopped as it was uninsured and had no valid MOT.78 It may also have been the case that they were concerned that the TATP might detonate during the journey, and they were separating themselves for that reason.

Second, they gave the incorrect address at Somerton Court. They had been using Flat 74, Somerton Court, but gave the taxi company an address of Flat 72, Somerton Court. It is likely that this was to disrupt any attempt to track them down or discover what they had been doing at Somerton Court.

Third, they concealed the Devell House location from the taxi driver. It is likely that this was to prevent it being discovered by the police.

As was to become apparent to the investigators of Operation Manteline after the Attack, the Abedi brothers had taken these steps to move the TATP and other items associated with the construction of the bomb because they were due to travel to Libya.

Departure from the UK

On 1st April 2017, flights departing on 6th April 2017 from Libya to the UK were booked for SA’s and HA’s parents and younger siblings. The return flights to Libya were scheduled for 15th April 2017. At around the time that SA’s and HA’s family landed in the UK, one‑way flights to Libya via Amsterdam and Istanbul, also on 15th April 2017, were booked for SA and HA. The one‑way flights for SA and HA were booked by their older brother, Ismail Abedi.79

At 17:25 on 15th April 2017, SA and HA departed for Libya from Manchester Airport with their parents and younger brother.80