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Thursday, May 25, 2017
Prime minister will raise concerns at Nato summit that intelligence leaks from the US have damaged investigation
The home of Salman Abedi who carried out the suicide bomb attack at Manchester Arena on Monday. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/the Guardian
Theresa May will confront Donald Trump over the stream of leaks of crucial intelligence about the Manchester bomb attack when she meets the US president at a Nato summit in Brussels on Thursday.
British officials were infuriated on Wednesday when the New York Timespublished forensic photographs of sophisticated bomb parts that UK authorities fear could complicate the expanding investigation into the lethal blast in which five further arrests have been made in the UK and two more in Libya.
It was the latest of a series of leaks to US journalists that appeared to come from inside the US intelligence community, passing on data that had been shared between the two countries as part of a long-standing security cooperation.
A senior Whitehall source said: “These images from inside the American system are clearly distressing to victims, their families and other members of the public. Protests have been lodged at every relevant level between the British authorities and our US counterparts. They are in no doubt about our huge strength of feeling on this issue. It is unacceptable.”
Police chiefs also criticised the leaking of information from the investigation. A National Counter Terrorism Policing spokesperson said: “We greatly value the important relationships we have with our trusted intelligence, law enforcement and security partners around the world.
“When that trust is breached it undermines these relationships, and undermines our investigations and the confidence of victims, witnesses and their families. This damage is even greater when it involves unauthorised disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major counter-terrorism investigation.”
Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, added yet more criticism:
The government does not believe the president is directly responsible for the potentially compromising leaks; but May will raise her concerns with him at the Nato summit where she will push for the military alliance to join the coalition against Islamic State.
The images published by the US newspaper revealed that the device that killed 22 people used by Salman Abedi had been made with “forethought and care”, raising questions for investigators about how it had been constructed and by whom.
Abedi had carried a metal box containing “well packed” explosives metal nuts and screws in a box probably inside a Karrimor rucksack, the leaked details showed. The device was powerful enough for shrapnel to penetrate metal doors and to scar brick walls. Abedi detonated the bomb with his left hand.
It showed the force of the explosion was such that his torso was ripped from the rest of his body and propelled across the foyer and that most of those killed were in a circle around the bomber.
Only hours earlier Amber Rudd, the home secretary, had rebuked the US security services for leaking the bomber’s name to American media before it had been made public in Britain, but her warnings appeared to have had no impact.
“I have been very clear with our friends that that should not happen again,” Rudd had said.
Three people were detained by Greater Manchester police in south Manchester, a fourth arrest was made in Wigan, a fifth in Blackley in the north of the city and a sixth in Nuneaton, Warwickshire while security forces in Tripoli arrested the bomber’s father, Ramadan Abedi, as well as his younger brother, Hashem Abedi. Libyan officials said that Hashem knew about the planned attack.
“It is very clear that this is a network we are investigating,” said Greater Manchester’s chief constable, Ian Hopkins. “It continues at a pace.”
Further arrests in Britain appear likely as security officials race to roll up the network around Abedi, who claimed the lives of 22 people in a suicide bombing at an Ariane Grande concert on Monday night, with dozens more wounded.
About 1,000 troops were also deployed on British streets to guard public buildings, freeing up armed officers so they could assist with the spreading investigation, the day after Theresa May raised the UK’s terror threat level to critical.
“It seems likely, possible, that he wasn’t doing this on his own,” said Rudd. A critical threat means that a further terror attack is believed to be highly likely and may be imminent.
Ten more victims of the deadly attack were named on Wednesday, bringing to 13 the number of people killed by the suicide bomber so far confirmed as dead by their families.
They include an eight-year-old, teenage girls and a mother of three. A female police officer who was off duty at the concert with her husband and two children was also killed, Cheshire police confirmed. She has not been named. Her husband remained critically ill in hospital and the children were injured.
Another 64 people were still being treated at Manchester hospitals, an increase on Tuesday because some walking wounded had to be admitted. Twenty were receiving critical care including some with damage to major organs.
“These are highly traumatic injuries,” said Jon Rouse, chief executive of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, who said some victims would require “very long term care and support in terms of their recovery”.
At a vigil on Wednesday night in Bury, the mother of 15-year-old Olivia Campbell, sobbed as she addressed the crowd. Supported by relatives, Charlotte Campbell, said she felt she had to come to speak: “Don’t let this beat any of us. Don’t let my Olivia be a victim,” she said.
Police said relatives of all those killed had been informed and specialist officers were supporting them. Some families issued statements describing their loss. Relatives of Michelle Kiss, a mother of three from Lancashire, said she had been taken in the “most traumatic way imaginable”.
“We hope to draw from the courage and strength she showed in her life to get through this extremely difficult time,” they said.
Fourteen-year-old Cheshire schoolgirl Nell Jones was also confirmed as among the dead and Jane Tweddle-Taylor, a 51-year-old school receptionist, who was waiting with a friend to pick up two girls from the concert, was also confirmed as a fatality.
Greater Manchester Police declined to comment on claims on Tuesday by a Muslim community worker that they had twice contacted police about Salman Abedi several years ago. The worker, who was not named, told the BBC they raised the alarm because they were worried that Abedi “was supporting terrorism” and had expressed the view that “being a suicide bomber was OK”.
A GMP spokesman said: “It is part of an ongoing investigation. We can’t comment on it.”
Meanwhile both Labour and the Conservatives indicated that campaigning in the general election is set to restart in earnest on Friday with some local campaigning starting on Wednesday, when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn discussed with the prime minister the issue of when to return to the campaign trail. There will be a nationwide one-minute silence at 11am on Thursday.
Before his arrest Abedi’s father said he had last seen his son when he visited Tripoli last week. He had told his mother he intended to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca during Ramadan, which starts this weekend.
“I was really shocked when I saw the news, I still don’t believe it,” he said. “My son was as religious as any child who opens his eyes in a religious family. As we were discussing news of similar attacks earlier, he was always against those attacks, saying there’s no religious justification for them.”
Ahmed Bin Salem, a spokesman for the Tripoli-based militia, known as Rada that arrested the bomber’s brother, said it had evidence Hashem Abedi “is involved in Daesh [Islamic State] with his brother”.
“We have been following him for more than one month and a half,” he told Reuters. “He was in contact with his brother and he knew about the attack.”