Revealed: MI5 knew Manchester bomber was buying chemicals – but didn’t act in time

By Duncan Gardham and Abul Taher



dmg media (UK)


MI5 chiefs failed to act on two separate warnings that the Manchester Arena attacker was buying bomb-making ingredients in the months before the outrage. The Mail on Sunday has learned that the agency received two ‘pieces of intelligence’ about the purchase of chemicals by Salman Abedi – but didn’t realise the ‘significance’ of the information. Sir John Saunders, the chairman of the inquiry, revealed in his final report that a delay in reporting the second piece of intelligence within MI5 and to police resulted in a ‘significant missed opportunity to take action that might have prevented the attack’. It could be due to the fact he heard about the intelligence during closed hearings that Sir John was unable to give full details in his report. But a source who deals with national security issues has told how the two pieces of information related to Abedi, 22, and his associates buying ‘pre-cursor chemicals’ used to make an explosive substance called triacetone triperoxide (TATP), nicknamed Mother of Satan. It was this substance that was in the deadly bomb that killed 22 victims – half of whom were children – at the end of an Ariana Grande concert on May 22, 2017. It is unclear why the information was badly handled. Relatives of the victims reacted angrily last night. Andrew Roussos, whose eight-year-old daughter Saffie-Rose, was the youngest victim of the atrocity, said: ‘This information is key to understanding the scale of the intelligence failures.’ Mr Roussos and at least 15 other families have previously spoken of their plans to sue MI5 for negligence. The Manchester Arena Inquiry was highly critical of MI5, accusing it of being responsible for an intelligence ‘failure’ in the runup to the attack. It was these damning conclusions that led to Ken McCallum, the Director General of MI5, into issuing a rare public apology to the families of victims. In November 2021, Sir John held closed evidence hearings that could not be reported by the media. During a ten-day session, Sir John heard evidence from five MI5 officers – including the ones who actually handled and assessed the two pieces of intelligence. In his report, Sir John said that the Witness J, who was speaking on behalf of the Service, said the two pieces of intelligence were deemed not to relate to terrorism. But MI5 officers, Witnesses A, B and C, told the inquiry that they considered the second piece of intelligence, when considered alongside the first piece, could be of ‘pressing national security concern’. Yet despite this, the inquiry found that the two pieces of intelligence were not acted on quickly enough or shared with counter-terrorism police. Meanwhile, MI5’s own internal report on it was delayed and did not give sufficient context for other officers to understand its full significance. If MI5 acted on its intelligence, Sir John concluded, then Abedi could have been stopped and searched at Manchester Airport four days before the attack on his return from a trip to Libya. The inquiry also found that he could have been followed afterwards, which might have led MI5 to a Nissan Micra being used to store the homemade explosives. Abedi and his younger brother Hashem, 26 – now serving life in jail – persuaded two cousins and a friend to buy them sulphuric acid on Amazon. Hashem Abedi’s trial at the Old Bailey heard that he told his two cousins – who were cleared by the police of any wrongdoing – the acid was to top up a car battery. But it was actually one of the ingredients needed for the bomb. Next followed the purchase of hydrogen peroxide, the main ingredient for TATP, via fake Amazon accounts. MI5 had claimed that the officers analysing the intelligence took it to be ‘criminal activity’ linked to ‘drugs or organised crime’. Hydrogen peroxide can be used for hydroponics, the process used to grow cannabis plants in water – and Salman and Hashem Abedi had been drug users in the past. But the chemical was also the main ingredient in the suicide bombs used at the London Transport bombings of July 7, 2005. Last night, a spokesman for the Home Office, which speaks on behalf of MI5, said: ‘The Chair [Sir John] has published his findings, and the Government will not engage in speculation about them.’