Ramadan and Rabaa Abedi
At 19:24 on 23rd May 2017, SA’s father, Ramadan Abedi, messaged his sister, Rabaa Abedi, on Facebook. Rabaa Abedi lived in Canada. Ramadan Abedi informed Rabaa Abedi that SA had “blown himself up” at the Arena.
“Allah is predominant. I did my best. One month ago I went and returned them back when I found their thinking is wrong. She then went and gave him the passports. She told me he’s going to Umrah [pilgrimage to Mecca]. I did not know anything about him until he travelled four days ago.”
It is likely that the “she” who is said by Ramadan Abedi to have returned SA’s passport was Samia Tabbal, SA’s mother.
Identification of SA and HA
The investigation by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) began very soon after the Attack on 22nd May 2017. Within 90 minutes, just after 00:00 on 23rd May 2017, DCS Barraclough had been appointed the Senior Investigating Officer of Operation Manteline.
At 01:58 on 23rd May 2017, a Halifax bank card bearing SA’s name was discovered in the City Room by the Operation Manteline Bomb Scene Manager, Robert Gallagher. It was logged on a GMP system at 02:20.
At 02:29, photographs were taken of SA with a view to identifying him by facial recognition.At 04:43, an expert in image assessment carried out a comparison between these photographs of the bomber and a known image of SA. The expert concluded that the two sets of images showed the same person.
Fingerprints were also taken. Further evidence of SA’s identification was obtained at 10:35 on 23rd May 2017 when the results of the fingerprint comparison were returned.From this point, Operation Manteline proceeded on the basis that the identity of the person who had detonated the bomb was known. Subsequent DNA comparison confirmed that the identification of SA was correct.
By 11:30 on 23rd May 2017, HA had been identified as a suspect.Shortly after HA was identified, it was reported that he had been detained in Libya.
At a press conference given by GMP Chief Constable Ian Hopkins at 17:21 on 23rd May 2017, the police informed the public of the bomber’s identity.
HA was returned to the UK on 17th July 2019 as a result of extradition proceedings brought by the Crown Prosecution Service supported by Operation Manteline.
HA refused to answer the questions asked of him by Operation Manteline investigators. He provided a statement. In that statement he denied holding extremist views or being a supporter of Islamic State. He denied any involvement in or knowledge of the Attack.
Scale of the investigation
The investigators recovered 29.26kg of metal nuts. A further 1.47kg of screws or cross dowels were also recovered. The investigation concluded that there were approximately 3,000 such items of shrapnel in total.
GMP estimated that more than 1,000 police officers, police staff and National Crime Agency officers were involved in the initial stages of the investigation. More than 16,000 actions were raised. During the course of the investigation, more than 17,000 exhibits were seized. In excess of 4,000 witness statements were taken. More than 20,000 documents were produced.There were 23 arrests under the Terrorism Act 2000. A total of 42 properties were searched. More than 900 digital devices were seized.
To give one example of the efforts Operation Manteline officers went to: over the course of 12 months, 10,000 tonnes of rubbish were searched in order to try to recover the Kangol suitcase.
DCS Barraclough described the investigation as “colossal”.I agree.
HA was charged with a number of offences, including the murder of twenty‑two people, as a result of the investigation.
Criminal trial of HA
Between 27th January 2020 and 17th March 2020, HA was tried by a jury.At the trial, the prosecution alleged that he was guilty of 22 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder in relation to those not killed in the blast, and conspiracy to cause explosions. On 17th March 2020, HA was found guilty on all counts.
On 20th August 2020, HA was sentence to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 55 years. When passing sentence, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker stated: “The stark reality is that these were atrocious crimes: large in their scale, deadly in their intent and appalling in their consequences.”I agree. This succinctly captures the heinous wickedness of SA’s and HA’s crimes.
On 23rd October 2020, HA was interviewed at Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Full Sutton by members of the Inquiry Legal Team.Prior to the interview, he had been provided with a list of the questions that were going to be asked of him.
In the course of the interview, HA admitted that he was a supporter of violent jihad in that he supported the institution of Sharia law through violent means. He said that he considered violence to be justified to bring about change in society. He said that he was a supporter of Islamic State.
The following exchange took place during the interview:
“Question [Counsel to the Inquiry]: What actions have you taken to support Islamic State?
Answer [HA]: The Manchester attack.”
HA admitted that he had played a full and knowing part in the planning and preparation for the Attack.
During the interview, HA provided a statement that he had prepared beforehand. In that statement he set out his motivations. The statement is Islamic State propaganda.For this reason, I will not rehearse any of its content. Nor should it ever see the light of day.
Knowing involvement of others
Methodology for building the bomb
During the period from 18th May 2017 to 22nd May 2017, SA constructed the bomb. I am satisfied, from the meticulous reconstruction of those days carried out by Operation Manteline, that he worked on the bomb during this period alone. SA no longer had the assistance of HA, who remained in Libya.
For good reason, extensive measures are taken to ensure that knowledge of how to build a bomb is highly restricted within the UK population. The process for manufacturing TATP is not straightforward and is highly dangerous. It follows that SA and HA must have acquired the knowledge from a source not readily available to members of the public.
As I have explained in paragraphs 23.7 to 23.10, I am satisfied that SA and HA are likely to have watched the bomb‑making video identified by Operation Manteline, or one very like it. However, in my view, that in itself is not capable of being a complete explanation for the full extent of their knowledge.
There is no direct evidence of where the additional training that I consider SA and HA must have had came from. Nor is there any direct evidence of when this training was received or whether it was in the UK or abroad. SA spent the summer of 2016 in Libya, returning on 8th October 2016. The first evidence of the collection of items for use in the bomb came just a few months later, shortly after the bomb‑making video became available on the internet in November 2016.
It is probably the case that SA received instruction in how to make TATP and construct an IED while in Libya in 2016. Although I cannot exclude the possibility that instruction was provided in the UK as well, or instead of that in Libya, no evidence of this has emerged from any of the interviews, documents and seized electronic devices. Inevitably, there is a clearer picture of SA’s movements and associates in this country. The absence of such evidence in the UK points strongly to the initial instruction being provided in Libya.
There is another reason to conclude that SA had an associate or associates in Libya who gave him instruction in bomb‑making. Following his return from Libya on 18th May 2017, SA replaced some of the items he had acquired for the bomb before his departure on 15th April 2017. This was with a view to making the bomb more deadly. I do not intend to spell out what this change was, for obvious reasons, but I am satisfied that it occurred.
There is a third piece of evidence that is consistent with my conclusion that help was given to SA in Libya. The bomb that SA constructed in May 2017 contained a Sistema 45910 switch. This was recovered by Operation Manteline officers from the City Room. It was manufactured in early March 2016 in Romania. Once manufactured, it was sold on to wholesalers in Italy, Tunisia and Denmark. The Tunisian wholesaler supplied Libya.
In my view, there is a material possibility that this switch was acquired in Libya by SA between 15th April 2017 and 18th May 2017. I cannot conclude that this is more likely than not, but it is the most likely of a number of possibilities.
In this regard, I note that the instructional video I considered at paragraphs 23.7 to 23.10 did not include any reference to a switch. This is consistent with a switch being added to the design of the device at a later stage. It is a reasonable inference that this was probably after the TATP had been manufactured in accordance with the instructions in that video, which took place prior to the departure for Libya on 15th April 2017.
In reaching the conclusion that there is a real possibility that the switch was acquired in Libya and brought into the UK by SA on 18th May 2017, I have borne in mind the finding I have made in paragraph 23.84 about SA taking steps to avoid detection when travelling back into the UK on 18th May 2017. As such cautious behaviour could suggest that SA was unlikely to take the risk of bringing the switch into the UK, this finding is one reason why I do not consider I can go as far as saying that it is more likely than not that SA had the switch on him as he passed through Manchester Airport on 18th May 2017.
The acquisition of the switch shortly before returning to the UK on 18th May 2017 would be consistent with SA receiving technical advice in Libya during the period between 15th April 2017 and 18th May 2017.
The process of constructing the bomb was a complex one. It involved SA altering the TATP from a relatively safe state to one that was highly unstable. It involved integrating that now unstable explosive into a device that SA was able to detonate. Again, for obvious reasons, I am not going to detail those stages, but I am satisfied that this was not something SA would have been able to do based on a recollection of a video or even following along while he viewed it.
Not every item disposed of on 22nd May 2017 by SA has been recovered. It is possible, for example, that detailed instructions were disposed of in the Kangol suitcase. Even if that was the case, given SA’s undistinguished educational career, I consider it unlikely that he would have been able simply to follow such instructions without having practised beforehand. As DCS Barraclough confirmed, neither SA nor HA had any qualifications in chemistry, maths or any other academic discipline that might be relevant to the manufacture of TATP or the construction of a bomb.
In my view, it is likely that, while in Libya during the period 15th April 2017 to 18th May 2017, SA received practical instruction on how to assemble an IED. The evidence does not enable me to reach any conclusion as to who provided this instruction or the circumstances in which it occurred.
The bomb‑making video may go some way to explain how SA and HA knew how to build their device. It does not provide any instruction in how to avoid detection, and therefore cannot account for the extent of the anti‑detection measures taken, both by SA and HA before 15th April 2017 and by SA after he arrived back in the UK on 18th May 2017. Exactly where they learned to do what they did is not revealed by the evidence. A number of possibilities exist.
First, it may be that these were steps that they instinctively took without any instruction from anywhere. I reject this as a likely explanation. Given what is known about them, I do not credit SA and HA with the intelligence or sophistication to have come up with the approach they took between themselves.
Second, it may be that they learned some of it from the internet. As I have said, the police did not seize all relevant devices. Consequently, there was not a complete capture of all potentially relevant digital data. Learning from the internet is a more likely explanation than the first possibility. However, while internet research may explain some of their actions, I am not convinced that it can provide a complete explanation.
Third, it may be that SA and HA received advice from others on how to avoid detection. This, in my view, is likely to be the case. For the same reasons I gave in relation to instruction in bomb‑making, I consider the most likely place that this advice was given to be Libya in the summer of 2016 and between 15th April 2017 and 18th May 2017. As with the bomb‑making, there is no evidence that enables me to say who gave this advice or in what circumstances it occurred.
I can readily understand that there is considerable suspicion in the minds of many about the other individuals who were involved in the purchase of precursor chemicals. I am satisfied that Operation Manteline carried out a robust investigation into each one of those individuals. I have seen nothing, in any of those cases, that leads me to doubt the decisions made not to charge those individuals with involvement in the Attack. I make clear that I have not simply accepted the conclusions of Operation Manteline uncritically. I have made my own assessment.
In Part 22, I considered a number of individuals who, I consider, encouraged or failed to discourage SA’s extremist beliefs. Of those, Ahmed Taghdi was involved in an important part of the plot: the purchase of the Nissan Micra. I recognise that this is likely to heighten the suspicion felt by many. However, I am not persuaded, on the evidence I have heard, that there is a proper basis on which to conclude that Ahmed Taghdi was knowingly involved in the planning or preparation for the Attack.
The mere acquisition of a car is not inherently suspicious behaviour. There is nothing within the evidence that enables me to conclude that Ahmed Taghdi knew that, on the day following purchase, this car would be used to transport and store elements of a bomb.
In the case of Ismail Abedi, as I said in Part 22, there was clear evidence from September 2015 that he was a supporter of Islamic State. Ismail Abedi’s DNA was found on a tool recovered by Operation Manteline from the Nissan Micra. Again, I recognise that this is bound to arouse suspicion. However, this is the extent of any evidence of his involvement in the plot itself that I have seen.
I note that no witness suggested that Ismail Abedi was involved in using third parties to acquire precursor chemicals. Those individuals who were approached for this purpose were associates of SA’s and HA’s. There is no evidence that Ismail Abedi was involved in the creation of any email addresses or the placing of any orders. There is no evidence that Ismail Abedi was involved in acquiring properties or vehicles. Ismail Abedi was not involved in the transport of some of the device components on 14th and 15th April 2017. There is no evidence of any communication that might suggest Ismail Abedi was involved.
By contrast, it is clear that Ismail Abedi was involved in SA’s and HA’s departure from the UK on 15th April 2017. This was an event that put the plot on hold for a period of time. Although, as I have found, it is also likely that during the weeks in Libya SA received further training. In addition, following SA’s return to the UK on 18th May 2017, there is no evidence that he contacted or met up with Ismail Abedi.
Looking at the evidence as a whole, although he was a radicalising influence, there is no reliable basis on which to conclude that Ismail Abedi was involved in the planning or preparation for the Attack.
The Security Service assessment, based on the intelligence picture as it stood at the time, was that no one other than SA and HA were knowingly involved in the Attack plot.The evidence I heard, while creating reasonable suspicions regarding other individuals, is insufficient for me to conclude on the balance of probabilities that any of those who participated in the acquisition of precursor chemicals knew that those chemicals were to be used in a bomb.
However, it is more likely than not that there were others who were knowingly involved in plotting a bomb, even though they might not have known all the details of the plot.
First, it is likely that in the summer of 2016 SA discussed carrying out an attack while he was in Libya. The questions of who that discussion was with and in what circumstances it arose are not answered by the evidence.
Second, it is even more likely that SA had specific training in how to assemble an IED between 15th April 2017 and 18th May 2017. Any training during this period probably involved information on how to make a more deadly device than the one likely to have resulted from the preparatory work by SA and HA prior to their departure for Libya. Again, who and in what circumstances that instruction arose are not revealed by the available evidence.