Barcelona Terror Cell Originally Planned to Target Sagrada Familia Cathedral With Massive Truck Bomb

(Wikimedia Commons)

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, Aug. 20, 2017:

The terror cell that struck Barcelona on Thursday originally intended to target the city’s famed Sagrada Familia cathedral with a massive truck bomb, as investigators have revealed they’ve discovered 120 gas canisters that are believed to have been intended for the attack.

Meanwhile, the names and stories of the victims killed in the terror attack continue to be revealed, including confirmation earlier today that 7-year-old Australian boy Julian Cadman was among those murdered.

Investigators are focusing on the role of a Moroccan imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, who is believed to be the brains behind the terror cell and served in the mosque attended by the other terror cell members.

Meanwhile, a manhunt for one of the remaining cell members who may have been behind the wheel of the van that drove through the Las Ramblas shopping district has now spread to France.

Regarding the targeting of the Sagrada Familia, The Local reported:

Police believe that the jihadist cell responsible for the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils that left 14 dead and more than 100 injured were originally planning something much bigger involving Barcelona’s most emblematic tourist sites.

The terrorists planned to inflict as much carnage as possible by driving vans packed with explosives into three of the city’s busiest tourist areas, according to a report in  Spanish online newspaper El Español on Saturday.

The newspaper cites police sources with information that one of the targets was Gaudi’s as yet unfinished masterpiece, the towering basilica of the Sagrada Familia.

As the most visited monument in Spain attracting more than four million visitors last year, the Catholic site is thronged with tourist crowds with queues of dozens of people snaking across the forecourt to gain entry, while thousands more linger outside to admire its spires.

Reports said that Las Ramblas was the second objective and that the busy port area, which each day welcomes hundreds of visitors disembarking from cruise ships, may have been the third target.

The plans of the terror cell were apparently derailed after the explosion Wednesday of the safe house in Alcanar an hour south of Barcelona, where the terrorists were apparently building the vehicle bombs and where they had stored the gas canisters and the explosive TATP.

One of those killed in that blast is believed to be imam Abdelbaki Es Satty, who has become the one of the primary subjects of the investigation.

El Pais reported earlier today:

Two months ago, Abdelbaki told several acquaintances he was giving up his duties as an imam and moving to Morocco. A new imam was not named – all such changes must be communicated to the regional government – and since then worshippers with the Annour community have been leading their own prayers.

The strange disappearance of the imam coincides with the period during which the terrorist cell began to prepare an attack, or a number of attacks, involving a large explosive device in Barcelona. Although the timeline is not firmly established, the head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, Josep Lluís Trapero, explained the group had spent a “certain length of time” on those preparations […]

The role of the religious leader in the attacks is still to be clarified – not just in terms of the radicalization of cell members but also in terms of logistical preparation. “We can’t compromise evidence or leads, or give unreliable information,” said Mossos d’Esquadra spokesperson Albert Oliva on Saturday, adding that police had carried out nine searches in Ripoll alone that day.

Whether the members of the cell were radicalized by Abdelbaki or in another way, they quickly become ready and able to act. None of them had previous convictions for terrorism crimes nor did they feature on police databases. “They are very young,” stressed Catalan regional police chief Trapero.

Es Satty reportedly had contact with members of the terror cell that conducted the March 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 193 — still the largest Islamic terror attack in modern European history.

French authorities are now on alert as they believe that one of the remaining terror cell members still at large may have crossed over into France.

Read more

Also see:

Spain’s Day of Terror: 14 Victims and Six Suspected Terrorists Dead After Multiple Attacks

Spain suffered four incidents believed to be related to terrorism, including two deadly attacks, in little over 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday, which have left 14 victims dead, up to 80 injured, and as many as six suspected terrorists dead.

Spanish authorities have identified the attacks as Jihadist terrorism, and two have so far been arrested — one Moroccan, and one Spanish citizen from Melilla, the Spanish exclave in Morocco. Police announced a 14th victim fatality following the attacks Friday morning — the number had stood at 13 since the previous eveniung. More deaths may follow, with a dozen injured presently in critical condition.

The main attack took place in Barcelona at 1650 local time (1250EST) Thursday, as a hired van departed from the roadway that runs adjacent to the city’s tourist hotspot Las Ramblas pedestrianised walkway. Lined with cafes and bars and at the height of tourist season, the street saw 14 killed and dozens more injured as that van drove at high speed, swerving to target people on foot, according to witnesses.

The perpetrator of the attack then fled on foot and is still being sought by police, reportsSpanish newspaper El Pais. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, calling the killers “Islamic State soldiers”.

The hire van used in the Barcelona attack is towed away Thursday night. A second hired van was later discovered and is believed to have been hired as a getaway vehicle / getty Images

Less than three hours later, there was a second incident — this time on the outskirts of Barcelona. This time a car drove into police officers manning a checkpoint — possibly part of operation cage, the Spanish police mission launched under the attack to lock down the city. While no officers were killed, the driver was found dead in the car, having suffered fatal knife wounds which may have been self-inflicted.

While police initially said they were not treating the incidents as linked, they now believe they may have been.

The vehicle used to ram a crowd in the early hours of Friday morning is loaded onto a lorry / Getty Images

The third attack came in the early hours of Friday morning, as suspected terrorists again drove into police in Cambrils. Using an Audi A3 car the reportedly five would-be killers rammed into a group of people, injuring a police officer and six members of the public.

Police opened fire on the attackers as they emerged from the car, carrying knives and wearing explosive vests. All five were killed in the gunfire, and bomb teams used controlled explosions to destroy the vests, which subsequently turned out to be fake.

Police patrol the scene of Thursday’s mass casualty attack / Getty Images

These attacks are now being linked to a fourth event which took place in Alcanar, a town 120 miles away from Barcelona. A huge explosion destroyed a house, which was initially blamed on a gas leak. However, police now believe the explosion could have been a bomb meant for Thursday’s attacks that exploded prematurely. Dozens of bottles of propane and butane were found at the address.

The police operation following the attacks is still active, with at least one attacker — named as Moussa Oukabir — known to be on the loose.

5 Lessons for Us From the Manchester Bombing

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, May 30, 2017:

Suspects continue to be arrested following the suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena, with 13 people arrested in the U.K. and Libya at the time of this writing. One person detonated the explosive but the attack was the product of a global Islamist insurgency—and insurgencies can be defeated if we learn from their operations.

Here are 5 lessons from the bombing and follow-up investigation, in no particular order:

  1. Manchester is a hub in the Islamist insurgency network.
    Items left in memorial for the victims of the Manchester attack.
    Items left in memorial for the victims of the Manchester attack. (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

    It was a single bomb set off by a single jihadist, but he belonged to a hub in the Islamist insurgency. Apparently, independent Islamists often exist in geographic clusters that are linked together through a multilayered infrastructure. South Manchester is one such cluster.

    Earlier this year, The Guardian found that 16 convicted or killed terrorists lived within a 2.5-mile space in southern Manchester. That was before the bombing and the subsequent arrests in the area.

    Salman Abedi is believed to have links to ISIS recruiter Raphael Hostey, who was killed in Syria. Hostey acted as a “central node” in the Manchester jihadist network; a person whom others gravitate to and are somewhat directed by.

    In 2000, Abedi also lived on the same street as Abd al-Basset Azzouz, a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), explosives expert for al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s leader of Libyan operations. After they separated from the same street in 2000, the two were never more than a mile apart in Manchester.

    Azzouz traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009. Zawahiri then dispatched him to Libya. He is suspected of involvement in the 2012 Benghazi attacks. He was reportedly captured in Turkey in 2014 and then transferred to Jordan.

    The United Nations sanctioned him as a “key al-Qaeda operative” in February 2016. The U.N. says he recruited 200 terrorists in eastern Libya. Some U.S. officials put the number higher, estimating his Libyan network’s strength to be 200-300 as of 2014. It is very possible that Abedi learned how to make the bomb used at the Manchester Arena from this al-Qaeda affiliate in Libya.

    Manchester became a hub for the global Islamist insurgency because Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) members fled there to escape the wrath of then Libyan dictator Qaddafi. The LIFG developed an infrastructure in Manchester and other parts of the UK to continue the jihad away from Qaddafi’s grip.

    One such member was Ramadan Abedi, the father of the Manchester bomber, Salman. Ramadan fled Libya in 1993 to Saudi Arabia and, from there, was granted asylum by the United Kingdom. He moved to London and then southern Manchester.

    In 2011, when Salman Abedi was only 16 years old, he reportedly moved to Libya to fight against Qaddafi’s forces alongside his father. A member of the Didsbury Mosque claims he personally saw Ramadan Abedi fighting as a member of the LIFG. The associate did not say that he saw Salman.

    The mosque attendee, who claims to have known Ramadan since the early 1990s, said the LIFG had so many recruits from Manchester that their unit was known as the “Manchester fighters—we even had our own logo. Three-quarters of the fighters at the beginning of the revolution were from Manchester.”

  2. Islamists who condemn ISIS are still part of the problem—and that includes the Didsbury Mosque in Manchester.
    Didsbury Mosque, Manchester.
    Didsbury Mosque, Manchester. (Photo: OLI SCARFF / AFP / Getty Images)

    Yes, the imam of the Didsbury Mosque, also known as the Manchester Islamic Center, is said to have condemned ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia (the al-Qaeda affiliate linked to the Benghazi attacks), which enraged Salman Abedi. The mosque banned Abedi after he confronted the imam, accusing him of talking “bullocks” [sic] and says it reported him to the proper authorities.

    It’s still not good enough.

    Salman Abedi got his Islamist foundations from some place and there is nowhere more influential in his life than the mosque he and his family attended. The family is “very religious” and a member of the Libyan community in Manchester said the boys “learned the Quran by heart.”

    Salman Abedi’s father, a known member of the al-Qaeda-linked LIFG, was a long-time mosque official who led the call to prayer. Salman’s brother, who has since been arrested, is a teaching assistant for Arabic classes at the mosque’s school.

    The Islamism of the LIFG and the mosque is only a hair’s breadth away from that of the more aggressive Islamism of al-Qaeda and ISIS. They are all acting upon the same fundamental principles, albeit in different ways.

    The Quilliam Foundation, a moderate Muslim organization, says those who originally formed the Libyan community in Manchester attended the Didsbury Mosque because it was Arab and run by the Muslim Brotherhood.

    The top leadership is part of the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas apparatus. Its imam and its supervisor of its Sharia Department are also officials in international Brotherhood/Hamas groups led by Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, one of the most influential extremists in the world. His support for suicide bombing, violent jihad, theocracy, anti-Semitism and other ISIS-like beliefs are well-known.

    According to the Global Muslim Brotherhood Watch, a former trustee is a “known Hamas activist.” He was present during a pivotal secret Brotherhood/Hamas meeting in Philadelphia in 1993 to set up the U.S. branch of the Brotherhood.

    Anti-Semitic tweets from another trustee, Fawzi Haffar, have been discovered. The content is so ferocious that it would lead any Muslim who trusts his word to believe they are obligated to engage in violent jihad.

    The mosque’s imam personally engaged in violent jihad in Libya against Qaddafi’s forces in 2011. There is a video that purportedly shows him in military attire discussing plans for attack, with militants loading bombs and discussing upcoming operations. He previously claimed he was only helping his family members to escape the violence.

    In 2005, a member of the al-Qaeda-linked LIFG was arrested in Libya. He said he was granted asylum by the U.K. and moved to Manchester. He said he then began fundraising for LIFG through the Didsbury Mosque. When asked about it, a mosque spokesperson blatantly lied by saying they hadn’t even heard of the LIFG, much less the arrested individual.

    The mosque also has a history of choosing guest lecturers who spout radicalism of the vilest nature.

    One Muslim says he began attending the mosque in 1994 but left in 1999 after it repeatedly invited Abu Qatada to teach its congregants. Qatada’s extremism was well-known and present in a lecture to an audience of 300 that this Muslim says he attended. The individual confronted Qatada and had repeated arguments with other mosque members which escalated into assaults. The former attendee says his nose was broken in one fight.

    One blogger noticed at least three other extremist speakers who were brought into the Didsbury Mosque as authorities the audience should hear. Their preaching includes ferocious anti-Semitism; advocacy for Sharia-based theocracies; condemnations of secular-democracy; wild conspiracy theories; glorifying of violent jihad and executing adulterers, homosexuals, those who leave Islam and those who commit blasphemy against Islam.

    Other teachings that the preachers are known for include condemning Jewish and Christian influence on Muslims and that Muslims cannot be close friends with non-Muslims. Non-Muslims are not deserving of true respect. Jews are orchestrating the spread of homosexuality, engineering a conspiracy through the media and will be part of the Antichrist’s army.

    One speaker preached that women do not belong in the workplace and should only leave the home when it is unavoidable. Other quotes from the selected speakers include statements that Muslims cannot help those who converted to Christianity to escape from countries like Iran where apostasy is punished with death. One condemned secular and liberal Muslims as the “biggest danger” to the community.

    With this type of preaching, it isn’t hard to see how Abedi could be motivated to take that extra step to join ISIS or al-Qaeda or why at least two other ISIS recruits worshipped at the mosque.

  3. We must dismantle the Islamist ideological infrastructure that produces violent jihad and its prerequisite radicalism.
    British soldiers outside the House of Parliament in London in the wake of the May 2017 Manchester terror attack.
    British soldiers outside the House of Parliament in London in the wake of the May 2017 Manchester terror attack. (Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP / Getty Images)

    Notice the overlaps in membership and brands of Islamism in the above lesson. Because jihadist groups are just a manifestation of the Islamist ideology, group membership is fluid. A recent study found that half of the most prominent violent jihadists came from tamer Islamist movements not directly engaged in violence.

    A mosque operated by the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas was a centerpiece in setting up the LIFG’s network in Manchester, even though LIFG was aligned with al-Qaeda, supposedly a rival of the Brotherhood and Hamas. This same network produces ISIS recruits, even though the mosque imam condemns ISIS, as does the Brotherhood and other parts of the LIFG network.

    One possible associate of Abedi from the Manchester hub joined a Libyan Islamist group called the 17 February Martyrs’ Brigade, which was disastrously chosen to protect Americans in Benghazi. This individual later became an advocate for ISIS after returning to the UK.

    Ramadan Abedi may also have fought for an Islamist group in Libya and been injured in 2014.

    That is why the common thread—the Islamist ideology and the factories producing it—must be the focus of our efforts. As Elliot Friedland wrote about, a Muslim woman called into BBC’s Question Time program and warned that Saudi-trained clerics were coming into her community and promoting Wahhabism to children as young as seven.

  4. The anti-Islamists are your allies, not the “moderate” Islamists.
    Police cordon off an area in Moss Side Manchester to carry out investigations.
    Police cordon off an area in Moss Side Manchester to carry out investigations. (Photo: JOHN SUPER/AFP/Getty Images)

     The investigation into the Manchester bombing is resulting in scrutiny of the LIFG network in the U.K. that spawned so many al-Qaeda and ISIS recruits. It’s worth pointing out that our Egyptian and Libyan allies are fighting that same network and have been asking for U.S. help in defeating them since the civil war began in 2011.

     After Libyan dictator Qaddafi fell, a very predictable civil war between “moderate” Islamist militias and secular-democratic forces began. ISIS gained a foothold and fought both. The civil war became a proxy war between the anti-Islamist secularists backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and a coalition of Islamists backed by Qatar, Turkey and Sudan that includes al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood and the successors to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group—the group whose network bred the Manchester terror hub.

     The anti-Islamist forces, spearheaded by General Khalifah Haftar’s Libyan National Army, are the most popular and strongest of the approximately 1,700 militias in Libya. It is successful, openly disdains Political Islam, vows to separate mosque and state. Haftar wants to ban the major Islamist forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, as terrorist organizations.

    There are some reports that Salman Abedi himself might have been injured in 2014 fighting as a member of an Islamist militia battling Haftar’s forces.

    “From day one, the Muslim Brotherhood has served as a Trojan horse, bringing foreign combatants into Libya after they had received training in regional and Western capitals and cities…The Muslim Brotherhood provided them with entry visas or Libyan identity papers, furnished them with weapons and offered logistical support,” Haftar says.

    They openly sought an alliance with the U.S. and Europe, only to be disappointed. The Libyan and Egyptian governments viewed the Obama Administration’s neutrality and urging of a unity government as a pro-Muslim Brotherhood position.

    Egypt and its Libyan allies continue to demand a change in policy. We should remember that they are fighting the same Islamist network whose tentacles in Manchester sparked the May 22 bombing.

  5. The Western security agencies are not on the ball.
    Police escort concert goers from the site of the Ariana Grande concert following last nights attack. (Photo: Dave Thompson/Getty Images)

    MI5 has 500 active investigations and 3,000 subjects of interest. There are reports that there’s an additional 20,000 considered to pose a “residual risk” because they were previously investigated. It appears that Abedi was considered a “residual risk.”

    Abedi was reported to the government 5 times over 5 years by people who felt he posed a serious terrorist threat. This count presumably includes two friends who separately reported him in 2012 and 2016 after he justified suicide bombings and expressed support for terrorism. Members of his own family warned he was “dangerous.”

    He was still able to travel to Libya and Turkey (where he may have entered Syria) without questioning upon his return. He also visited Germany, and the Germans say he did not appear on any watch lists.

    Now it’s being reported the U.S. government told MI5 in early January that Abedi was part of a North African cell of ISIS members plotting an attack on a political target, which was thought to be an assassination. According to the unconfirmed report, the U.S. put Abedi on a watch list in mid-2016 after intercepting some of his communications.

    In another blunder, the U.K. designated the LIFG as a terrorist group in 2005. Ramadan Abedi, a member of LIFG, didn’t move to Libya until 2008. He was never arrested. Perhaps this is because of the difficulty in proving that someone is a “member” of a terrorist group instead of just a “supporter.”

    Ramadan Abedi denies being a member of the LIFG. He says, “I condemn anyone who says I belong to the LIFG, but I praise them.”

    Terrorists are often recruited by family members or close friends. The Abedi family’s ties to LIFG, involvement with a radical mosque, location near so many other terrorists in Manchester, the father’s move to Libya and involvement in the fighting, and various tips should have put him higher up on the priority list.

    When Salman Abedi spent three weeks in Libya, it should have triggered alarm bells in the intelligence system so he’d at least be questioned upon his return to the UK. That didn’t even happen. He committed a suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena shortly thereafter.

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s Shillman Fellow and national security analyst and an adjunct professor of counter-terrorism. He is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. To invite Ryan to speak, please contact us.

***

Also see:

UK officials still investigating ‘wider conspiracy’ behind Manchester attack

LONG WAR JOURNAL, BY THOMAS JOSCELYN | May 28, 2017

Law enforcement and counterterrorism officials are still investigating the possible “wider conspiracy” behind the May 22 Manchester Arena bombing, according to a statement released by the Manchester Police. Twelve men have been arrested in connection with the investigation and remain in custody. It is not known if charges will be brought against any or all of them. Two people, including one woman, were detained earlier, but released without charge.

Authorities have released images (seen above) captured by CCTV of Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old who detonated the bomb. The images are part of an effort to obtain more evidence regarding Abedi’s movements between May 18, when he returned to the UK from his travels abroad, until his night of terror days later. Forensic experts identified Abedi as the perpetrator within two hours of the attack. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the act.

The Manchester police released an infographic, seen on the right, summarizing key events to date.

Officials have discovered a flat where Abedi, and possibly his co-conspirators, may have assembled the bomb.

“The investigation is making good progress and we know one of the last places Abedi went was a city centre flat and from there he left to make his way to the Manchester Arena,” Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the Senior National Coordinator for UK Counter Terrorism Policing, said in a statement released online. “The flat is highly relevant as a location which we believe may be the final assembly place for the device.”

“In the past five days we have gathered significant information about Abedi, his associates, his finances, the places he had been, how the device was built and the wider conspiracy,” Hopkins and Basu said yesterday.

Authorities have not publicly confirmed that Abedi had co-conspirators, although that is the clear implication of their statements. “This is still a live investigation which is not slowing down,” Hopkins and Basu added. “Our priorities are to understand the run up to this terrible event and to understand if more people were involved in planning this attack.”

During an interview on BBC News with Andrew Marr, British interior minister Amber Rudd was asked about members of the “large group” surrounding around Abedi who have been arrested, and whether “some” members are sill at-large.

“Potentially, I mean it’s an ongoing operation” that is still at “full tilt,” Rudd responded.

Marr asked Rudd about possible security lapses in the lead up to Abedi’s bombing, including tips that authorities reportedly received, and failed to act on, beforehand. Rudd wouldn’t comment on the specifics, but defended the UK government’s counterterrorism record in general. She said that 18 plots have been foiled since 2013 and highlighted the “scale of the problem” Britain faces, especially from the Islamic State, which is trying to “weaponize young people in our society.”

Marr also inquired how many “serious potential jihadis” there were “across the country.” Citing figures provided by MI5, Rudd responded that the security services are “looking at 500 different plots” with 3,000 possible terrorists on the “top list” and 20,000 “underneath that.”

“But that’s all different layers, different tiers, and it might be just a question mark about one of them” that leads to inclusion on the “top list,” she explained. In other words, British authorities do not think that all of the people on MI5’s lists are necessarily terrorists in waiting. But officials are having a difficult time determining which individuals will follow Abedi’s path.

The British government has previously warned that the Islamic State threat is “unprecedented.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Why the UK launched its first targeted drone strike ever.]

The Manchester investigation is massive effort, requiring significant resources all by itself. Approximately 1,000 members of the British security services and law enforcement have been involved.

Outside of the UK, officials are looking into Hashim and Ramadan Abedi (Salman’s brother and father, respectively), both of whom were detained in Libya last week. Libya’s Special Deterrence Force, Rada, alleges that Hashim Abedi has admitted foreknowledge of the plot and that he and his brother were both members of the Islamic State. The senior Abedi’s ties to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a designated terror group linked to al Qaeda, are also being explored. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Analysis: UK investigating possible ‘network’ behind Manchester attack.]

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

***

Analysis: UK investigating possible ‘network’ behind Manchester attack

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, May 25, 2017:

Note: This article was first published at the Weekly Standard.

The investigation into the Manchester Arena bombing quickly turned to the possibility that the bomber, 22-year-old Salman Abedi, had accomplices. “I think it’s very clear that this is a network that we are investigating,” Chief Constable Ian Hopkins of the Manchester Police told reporters yesterday. The U.K.’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office was more circumspect, cautioning that “at this stage it is still not possible to be certain if there was a wider group involved in the attack.”

But the dragnet has only widened since Monday evening, and now stretches from the U.K. to Libya.

Authorities are looking into Abedi’s travels abroad, including to his parents’ native Libya, and whether he met with terrorist operatives. The bomb he deployed was well-crafted, with shrapnel packed around a powerful explosive charge. The jihadists have disseminated literature on how to construct similar devices, but bomb experts have yet to determine if it was an exceptional home brew, or professionally built.

As of this morning, according to Manchester police, eight men, including one of Abedi’s brothers, have been arrested in the U.K. It remains to be seen if charges are brought against any or all of them. One woman who was detained as part of the investigation has since been released.

Meanwhile, in Tripoli, another one of Abedi’s brothers and his father, Ramadan, have both been detained by Rada, Libya’s Special Deterrence Force.

Rada posted a picture of Hashim Abedi, Salman’s younger sibling (seen above), on its Facebook page along with a message saying that he had incriminated himself. Rada alleges that Hashim admitted he was aware of all of the details of the Manchester Arena plot and that the two brothers had joined the Islamic State. U.K. and U.S. officials are seeking to verify the claim.

Earlier yesterday, Ramadan Abedi insisted that his son Salman was innocent during an interview with the Associated Press. “We don’t believe in killing innocents. This is not us,” the Abedi father told the AP. “We aren’t the ones who blow up ourselves among innocents. We go to mosques. We recite Quran, but not that.” It was shortly after that that Rada detained Ramadan in Tripoli for questioning. They did not bring charges.

The Abedi family is from Libya; the 2011 uprising in that country brought the parents back to their native land. A family friend, Akram Ramadan, provided some background information to the Guardian. Akram Ramadan says that he fought alongside Ramadan Abedi during the revolution against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. The senior Abedi was apparently a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which failed in its attempt to overthrow Gaddafi during the 1990s. The LIFG has been designated a terrorist organization in the U.S. because of its ties to al Qaeda. Senior LIFG figures fought alongside al Qaeda in pre-9/11 Afghanistan and a number of them merged with Osama bin Laden’s enterprise. In fact, some LIFG members went on to serve in al Qaeda’s most senior roles.

Gaddafi’s regime imprisoned numerous LIFG members through the years, but many of them were released from prison both before and during the 2011 revolution. One of them, Sufian ben Qumu, went on to lead Ansar al Sharia (an al Qaeda-affiliated group) in Derna, a city in eastern Libya, and was linked to the September 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi.

Other former LIFG figures decided to play politics in post-Gaddafi Libya, and this led to heated criticism from the Islamic State.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s international organization rejects any form of politics. Only the top-down, authoritarian implementation of sharia law is legitimate for governance, according to the group’s ideologues. All other forms of rule are prohibited. Thus, the Islamic State has blasted Abdelhakim Belhadj, one of the most prominent former LIFG leaders, as an apostate. Belhadj, who reportedly knew Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, has joined one of Libya’s rival governments in Tripoli. There have been erroneous reports saying that Belhadj joined the Islamic State, but this is clearly false.

The Islamic State made Libya the third most important country in its caliphate between late 2014 and 2016. The group captured the coastal city of Sirte, portraying it almost on par with Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq–the two capitals of Baghdadi’s nascent state. But the jihadists lost Sirte in December of last year, forcing them to regroup elsewhere.

In January, the U.S. bombed two Islamic State training camps south of Sirte. Importantly, the Pentagon said that the airstrikes had targeted the Islamic State’s “external plotters,” who had been tied to terrorist planning in Europe. CNN then revealed that some of these same terrorists had connections to the December 19, 2016, Christmas market attack in Berlin, which was carried out by an Islamic State member from Tunisia.

This raises the possibility that the Manchester terrorist, Salman Abedi, met with the Islamic State’s “external” operatives during his time in Libya. Authorities are still piecing together a picture of his travels, but it appears that Abedi spent time in Libya just prior to returning to Manchester. Other, unconfirmed reports say he also traveled to Syria.

The investigation has led to tensions between U.K. officials and their counterparts in the U.S. The two countries have a robust intelligence-sharing relationship, but details are being leaked to the American press shortly after being transmitted by the Brits. For instance, photos and granular details about the bomb used in the attack were published by the New York Times yesterday.

The leaking has led the U.K. government to complain at multiple levels. Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly will raise the issue with President Donald Trump during NATO meetings in Brussels later today.

The U.K. National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) issued a statement that is scathing, at least by British standards.

“We greatly value the important relationships we have with our trusted intelligence, law enforcement and security partners around the world,” the NPCC statement reads. “These relationships enable us to collaborate and share privileged and sensitive information that allows us to defeat terrorism and protect the public at home and abroad.”

The NPCC statement continues: “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.”

That investigation is focused on Salman Abedi’s possible co-conspirators. And the leaks complicate efforts to roll up what may be a much larger network in play.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

***

Also see:

Isis commanders in Syria ‘directed failed plot to launch new terror attack in Paris’

French police during a raid in Boussy-Saint-Antoine near Paris, France, September 8, 2016. Reuters

French police during a raid in Boussy-Saint-Antoine near Paris, France, September 8, 2016. Reuters

Independent, by Lizzie Dearden, Sept. 9, 2016:

A cell of young women including one who became engaged to two killed terrorists has been directed by Isis commanders in Syria to attempt another attack in France.

Their plot failed after police discovered a car filled with gas canisters and containers of fuel near Notre Dame cathedral, sparking an investigation that is rapidly uncovering links with a far wider network of French extremists.

Francois Molins, the Paris prosecutor, said the women were guided by members of the so-called Islamic State from its strongholds.

One of the seven arrested so far, named locally as 23-year-old Sarah H, had been betrothed to two extremists who have since been killed, he added.

The 23-year-old was first engaged to Larossi Abballa, who was shot dead in a police raid after murdering a police officer and his wife earlier this year, and then to teenage Normandy church attacker Adel Kermiche, who was killed during the assault in July.

Her current fiancé, who has not been identified, was arrested on Thursday, Mr Molins said.

“A terrorist cell comprised of young women has been dismantled,” he added. “They were guided by individuals in Syria in the ranks of Islamic State.”

A 19-year-old suspect in the group, named locally as Ines Madani, allegedly wanted to travel to Syria and wrote a letter declaring allegiance to Isis.

She is also reported to have links with Hayat Boumeddiene, the wife of supermarket attacker Amedy Coulibaly who now lives in Isis territory.

Madani’s father, the owner of the car found in the early hours of Sunday morning, was already suspected of wanting to travel to Syria to fight for the group by police.

He was taken into custody earlier this week but later released after presenting himself to police on Sunday to report his daughter had disappeared with the vehicle.

The Peugeot 607 was found abandoned in Rue du Petit-Pont, with its hazard lights flashing and no number plates.

Police sources said no detonator had been found in the car, which contained six gas cylinders and three containers of diesel.

Gas canisters and fuel can be used in attempts to make car bombs, such as those discovered and disabled in London in 2007.

“These three women aged 39, 23 and 19 had been radicalised, were fanatics and were in all likelihood preparing an imminent, violent act,” interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

A police officer was stabbed while detaining the trio on Thursday, with one of the women being shot in the leg during the altercation in Boussy-Saint-Antoine.

Television footage showed officers leaving the scene carrying a large knife.

Five women and two men have so far been arrested in the case.

An official from the French interior ministry previously said the group intended to attack the Gare de Lyon on Thursday.

It lies south-east city centre, little over a mile from where the car was found abandoned near Notre Dame.

Terror attacks have killed more than 230 in France since January last year, with the Charlie Hebdo massacre carried out by al-Qaeda sympathisers followed by Isis’ Paris attacks, a string of lone wolf murders and the Nice attack that left more than 80 dead.

Isis has called on its supporters to launch attacks on French soil as the country continues to take part in international air strikes against its militants in Syria and Iraq.

Revealed: Isis sends new waves of jihadis to attack Europe

Jihadis: IS radicals are being sent to launch attacks on Europe AFP/Getty Images

Jihadis: IS radicals are being sent to launch attacks on Europe AFP/Getty Images

Evening Standard, by Martin Bentham, Aug. 26, 2016:

Britain was today warned of a rising threat from Islamic State fighters sent “on mission” from Syria.

The alert came as the EU’s top law enforcement officer revealed that increasing numbers of jihadis are using fake documents to sneak into Europe.

Europol’s director Rob Wainwright said IS had taken a “strategic decision” to send its fanatics to attack the continent in an attempt to distract attention from battlefield defeats in its heartland.

He also highlighted the weapons trade on the “Dark Net”, saying it was a “major part of the security challenge” that is now facing Europe. Mr Wainwright said some IS extremists were using false Syrian passports in a bid to arrive undetected — with a small but increasing number posing as refugees.

Others were exploiting the “industrial scale” production of false documents by criminals to obtain EU passports and move freely over the continent.

Mr Wainwright said Europe also faced the return of thousands more extremists as IS crumbled in Syria in a “long, long struggle” that will pose an “onerous security challenge” for years.

The warnings, in an interview with the Standard at Europol’s HQ in The Hague, came as Mr Wainwright also:

  • Said a new squad of 200 counter- terrorism officers is to be deployed to the Greek islands within weeks to spot extremists seeking entry to Europe.
  • Predicted more attempted Paris-style “spectacular” attacks, saying there are more than 50 counter-terror investigations under way in Europe.
  • Warned of reports that extremists are attempting to radicalise migrants at refugee reception centres in Greece and the Balkans.
  • Revealed that “hundreds” of law enforcement operations are trying to stop illegal firearms being moved to Britain and other EU nations.

His comments come amid reports by the Italian newspaper La Stampa that fake passports intended for use by IS extremists were found by law enforcement staff at refugee camps in Greece.

That will heighten concern about the terror threat facing Britain and follows a recent warning by Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe that it is a matter of “when, not if” Britain suffers another terrorist atrocity.

In his interview today, Mr Wainwright warned that this threat by returning foreign fighters was increasing.

He said: “There’s a lot pressure on IS now. I suspect morale might be flagging and a number of fighters of their own volition will want to return. Over several years we’ll have to deal with the re- integration of thousands of Europeans who’ll come back having been exposed to a highly radicalised environment.

“That’s going to be a long, long struggle for us to deal with the numbers involved and how we can get them back into society, plus sort out which among them pose the biggest security threat.

“Given the numbers involved, that’s quite an onerous security challenge the authorities will face. Some fighters will be sent back by IS to engage in terrorist activity. We have, in the last year and a half, seen a strategic decision by IS to do that and carry out spectacular attacks of the type we saw in France and Brussels. There will be further attempts at that kind of activity, not least as a distraction.

“If they are having less military success in Syria then the ability to carry out spectacular attacks in Europe is an alternative way to sustain morale among their fighters and demonstrate that IS is still being successful. That is a strategic path IS is trying to take.

“On the security challenges we face, we’ll have a long-term struggle to reintegrate returning fighters, some of whom will have been sent back on mission.

“The other is the possibly even larger number who have never been to Syria but are still capable of being radicalised to carry out attacks.”

On the use of migration routes, Mr Wainwright said he was “surprised” IS had not exploited the refugee crisis more extensively so far, but warned that the number of foreign fighters entering Europe with false documents was growing.

“We’ve had cases, and they continue to be identified, of clandestine attempts at return — forged passports, assumed identity, typically a Syrian passport, to get into Europe, sometimes through the migratory/refugee channel.

“Some cases involve the use of a fake Syrian ID to claim asylum and on arrival in Greece — then help by an accomplice for onward journeys to other European countries.

“At this point in some cases another assumed identity is taken on, this time with a forged EU passport to travel within the Schengen free movement area. We continue to see more cases.” Mr Wainwright said that to reduce the danger Europol would deploy counter-terrorism officers to help border guards spot potential extremists. The system would be modelled on the techniques of British law enforcers at Heathrow.

He said: “The officers will, on rotation, be deployed to the Greek islands, maybe Italy. There will be a second line of defence. We hope to deploy some into the camps where the refugees, the asylum seekers, are being held.

“We are concerned over reports these kinds of reception centres are being targeted for radicalisation activities.”

At least two of those behind the Paris attacks last November are known to have re-entered Europe from Syria via Greece using false Syrian passports.

Mr Wainwright said Europol, which coordinates intelligence sharing be- tween EU members, was also trying to identify and bring to trial those trading in illegal arms and fake documents.

He added: “The criminal underworld is supplying industrial amounts of forged documents — principally for people-smuggling but some of which we know are being directed to terrorist networks. We also have tens of thousands of suspects involved in the illegal firearms trade.

“A pretty large-scale criminal underworld is supplying illegal firearms to mainly criminal contacts, a small but significant proportion of which are destined for use by terrorists.

“The supply is still connected a lot with the former Yugoslavia and a fair bit is coming from America.

“Also a lot of it is managed, arranged, bought, sold and traded online — especially on the Dark Net.

“The ability of police to identify both the buyer and seller there is very low.

“There are large-scale trading sites for illegal firearms — as there are for drugs — on the Dark Net, which is accounting for a significant part of  this problem.”

On the impact of Brexit, Mr Wainwright said British law enforcement would benefit from retaining the European Arrest Warrant and access to the Schengen Information System.

Under that system, data is shared Europe-wide on people or objects with suspected connections to crime.

Mr Wainwright said an unprecedented deal would be needed to secure this but he was “optimistic” that Theresa May could negotiate a successful outcome.