Relatives of 22 people murdered in Manchester Arena bombing fall silent


A British Transport Police officer was alerted to the Manchester Arena suicide bomber more than half an hour before he went on to kill 22 people, the public inquiry into the atrocity was told yesterday.  

Experts have said there were ‘missed opportunities’ to identify Abedi as a threat and take action to stop him as witnesses claim they told officials that someone was acting suspiciously. 

A man, identified only as witness A, said the suspect looked ‘out of place’ carrying a large rucksack in a crowded place. Another witness, William Drysdale, spotted Abedi in the City Room of the arena on the night of the attack, and a companion of Mr Drysdale then approached a British Transport Police officer, the inquiry heard. 

Abedi had conducted several ‘hostile reconnaissance’ trips to the arena and the area outside it ahead of the attack on May 22, 2017, which left 22 people dead.

His first trip to the arena occurred on May 18 – the same day he arrived in the UK from Libya. In this trip, he walked into the City Room after wandering around the outside of the venue.

It was in the City Room that Abedi, surrounded by a throng of elated youngsters leaving an Ariana Grande concert, that he exploded his shrapnel-packed rucksack bomb, sending thousands of nuts and bolts shredding everything in their path.

Chilling footage showing suicide bomber Abedi struggling under the weight of his backpack and ‘adjusting wiring’ underneath his clothes moments before he murdered 22 people has been shown on the first day of the public inquiry into the terror attack.

The inquiry today heard:  

  • A member of the public – known as witness A – challenged a man matching Salman Abedi’s description at Manchester Arena and told security but was ‘fobbed off’, he claims;
  • Another witness William Drysdale spotted Abedi in the City Room of the arena on the night of the attack;
  • Someone else with Mr Drysdale then approached a British Transport Police officer. The officer cannot recall the conversation;
  • A BTP officer and a PCSO on duty at Victoria Station went for a break and returned to duty two hours 10 minutes later on the night of the bombing; 
  • Abedi conducted several ‘hostile reconnaissance’ trips to the arena and the area outside it ahead of the attack; 
  • His first trip came on May 18, 2017, the same day Abedi arrived in Manchester Airport from Libya; 
  • There were no BTP officers on patrol at the train station as Abedi, carrying his large rucksack bomb, made his final journey to the City Rooms entrance to carry out his suicide attack; 
  • On the day of the attack he was seen struggling under the weight of his backpack and ‘adjusting wiring’ underneath his clothes;
  • Experts have concluded there were missed opportunities to identify Abedi as a suicide bomber.
Salman Abedi was seen 'adjusting wiring' underneath his clothes in the moments leading up to the devastating terror attack which left 22 people dead on May 22, 2017

Abedi was 'adjusting wiring' in a lift the day of the attack

Salman Abedi was seen ‘adjusting wiring’ underneath his clothes in the moments leading up to the devastating terror attack which left 22 people dead on May 22, 2017

On May 21, the day before the attack, footage shows Abedi walking into the arena's City Room area (pictured) before sitting on a stairwell leading up to a mezzanine area - apparently on his phone

On May 21, the day before the attack, footage shows Abedi walking into the arena’s City Room area (pictured) before sitting on a stairwell leading up to a mezzanine area – apparently on his phone

Abedi (pictured on the day of the attack, shortly before 9pm) is pictured struggling under the weight of his backpack

 Abedi (pictured on the day of the attack, shortly before 9pm) is pictured struggling under the weight of his backpack

Abedi's first trip to the arena occurred on May 18 - the same day he arrived in the UK from Libya. Pictured: Abedi (back centre) walking towards the stairs that lead up to the City Room on his first trip

Abedi’s first trip to the arena occurred on May 18 – the same day he arrived in the UK from Libya. Pictured: Abedi (back centre) walking towards the stairs that lead up to the City Room on his first trip

On this first trip, footage shows Abedi (white cursor pointed at him) spending two minutes inside where he 'observes queues into the Arena' (pictured) before leaving on a tram

On this first trip, footage shows Abedi (white cursor pointed at him) spending two minutes inside where he ‘observes queues into the Arena’ (pictured) before leaving on a tram

Footage of Abedi's trips to the arena and the area outside it - ahead of the attack were also shown on the first day of a public inquiry into the incident. Pictured: One of his trips

Footage of Abedi’s trips to the arena and the area outside it – ahead of the attack were also shown on the first day of a public inquiry into the incident. Pictured: One of his trips

Sir John said: 'Salman Abedi (pictured) blew himself up in the explosion but he intended as many people as possible would die with him.'

A CCTV image of Salman Abedi at Victoria Station making his way to the Manchester Arena, on May 22, 2017, where he detonated his bomb

Sir John said: ‘Salman Abedi (left) blew himself up in the explosion but he intended as many people as possible would die with him.’ Right: A CCTV image of Salman Abedi at Victoria Station making his way to the Manchester Arena, on May 22, 2017, where he detonated his bomb

INQUIRY WILL EXAMINE WHETHER MANCHESTER ARENA PAIR WERE RADICALISED BY FAMILY 

The possible role of Salman Abedi’s family in radicalising the Manchester Arena suicide bomber and his brother needs to be assessed, the public inquiry into the attack has heard.

Opening the hearings on Monday, Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, said: ‘The inquiry will need to explore whether, and if so to what extent, the Adebi family or members of it were a radicalising influence on Salman and Hashem Abedi.’

Mr Greaney told the inquiry how, a few hours before the attack in May 2017, Salman Abedi received text messages from a Libyan number ‘associated with the Abedi family’.

He said that at 7pm, this number sent a message to a third Abedi brother, Ismail, which said: ‘Allah’s peace and blessings be upon you.’

The barrister told the inquiry: ‘This message and the coincidence of its timing with what was happening in Manchester may be innocent but do serve to indicate that… the inquiry will need to explore whether, and if so to what extent, the Adebi family or members of it were a radicalising influence on Salman and Hashem Abedi.’

Mr Greaney said that Abedi made a final phone call lasting about four minutes at 8.23pm to the same Abedi family number.

He said this reinforced the need to know whether family members played a role in radicalising Abedi ‘or even have known what was to occur or have suspected it’.

Mr Greaney described how at 8.30pm, the Abedi family number sent a text to Ismail Abedi, which he read to the hearing.

He then said: ‘Whilst perhaps no interpretation of this message can be certain, we will need to explore whether it was sent by Ismail Abedi’s mother, and the mother of the killers, and amounts to a complaint about the extreme views of her husband.

‘And, if so, again that will serve to reinforce the need to understand whether the family of Salman and Hashem Abedi had a radicalising influence upon them.’

Mr Greaney told the inquiry: ‘Ismail Abedi, the brother of the killers, has been required by the inquiry legal team to answer a series of questions relating to what might, in general terms, be described as the issue of radicalisation.

‘To date, he has declined to answer these questions on the basis that he maintains that his answers may tend to incriminate him.

‘And that his position notwithstanding that he was recently prepared to give an interview to Sky News in the aftermath of Hashem Abedi’s conviction.’

Mr Greaney said: ‘All who are listening and viewing should be assured that the inquiry is probing Ismail Abedi’s response.’

He said similar requests to the brothers’ parents, Ramadan and Samia, who are believed to be in Libya, ‘have not been responded to, at least not in any substantive way’.

Mr Greaney said questions had also been asked of Hashem Abedi, who was jailed for a minimum of 55 years for planning the attack with his brother and murdering 22 people.

 

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquest, said a witness had spoken to the suspicious person, asking him ‘What have you got in your rucksack?’ but received no reply.  

Mr Greaney added: ‘[Witness] A then said, ”It doesn’t look very good you know, you with a bag in a place like this. What are you doing?”

The man replied: ‘I’m waiting for somebody, mate. Have you got the time? What time is it?’

Witness A then spoke to Mohammed Agha, employed by venue security firm Showsec, but said he was ‘fobbed off.’

Mohammed Agha then spoke to fellow Showsec employee Kyle Lawler about the suspicious man and what they should do, the inquiry heard.

Mr Lawler is then said to have tried to radio his security control but could not get through. He then spotted the man get up and start walking towards the arena entrance.

His statement continued: ‘I just froze and did not get anything out on the radio. I knew at that point it was too late.’

Mr Greaney QC said the accounts of Showsec employees differ about what happened with ‘gaps and discrepancies’ between their accounts and the CCTV evidence captured at the arena.

Abedi, 22, was reported to police and security as acting suspiciously in the minutes before he detonated his bomb, the inquiry heard, but no action was taken.

Mr Greaney said that ‘of considerable importance, the experts consider, on the basis of the information currently available to them, that, on May 22, there were missed opportunities to identify Salman Abedi as a threat and take mitigating action.’

He said that the experts concluded: ‘If the presence of a potential suicide bomber had been reported, it is very likely that mitigating actions would’ve been taken that could have reduced the impact of the attack.

‘This is because there was sufficient time between Abedi first being spotted by, and also reported to (security) staff and his attack to effectively react.’

Mr Greaney said: ‘The evidence about these potential missed opportunities will need to be considered with the greatest possible care.’

He said whether there were ‘missed opportunities’ to prevent the attack or reduce its deadly impact would be a key consideration for the inquiry, which began on Monday.

Loved ones of the 22 people who died in the bombing stood in silent remembrance as the names of the victims were recited at the opening of the hearings.

The sombre proceedings began with Mr Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, reading the names of each of those murdered by suicide bomber Salman Abedi on May 22 2017.

Sir John Saunders, a retired High Court judge, is leading the probe examining events before, during and after the attack at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.

Abedi, surrounded by a throng of elated youngsters leaving the show, exploded his shrapnel-packed rucksack bomb, sending thousands of nuts and bolts shredding everything in their path.

Summarising the evidence at the beginning of the inquiry process, Mr Greaney described how William Drysdale spotted Abedi in the City Room of the arena and a second witness with Mr Drysdale then approached a British Transport Police (BTP) officer

The officer cannot recall the conversation, the hearing was told.

Two more witnesses, known only as A and B, a couple who had taken their daughter to the concert, also saw a man matching Abedi’s description acting suspiciously.

Mr A spoke to a Mohammed Agha, an employee of Showsec, the firm which provided security to the Arena on behalf of the venue’s owners, SMG.

Mr A spoke to Mr Agha at 10.14pm, some 17 minutes before the detonation.

Mr Agha then spoke to a colleague, Kyle Lawler, about the matter, eight minutes before the bomb went off.

But neither security control, nor anyone else, was informed about the suspicious activity, the hearing was told.

Abedi walks out of the City Room onto the footbridge that leads down into Victoria Station during the first trip to the arena on May 18

Abedi walks out of the City Room onto the footbridge that leads down into Victoria Station during the first trip to the arena on May 18

Abedi uses the toilets at the train station where he 'struggles to work out how the turnstile operates'. He crouches over due to the weight of his backpack

Abedi uses the toilets at the train station where he ‘struggles to work out how the turnstile operates’. He crouches over due to the weight of his backpack

On his first trip, footage shows Abedi spending two minutes inside where he ‘observes queues into the Arena’ before leaving on a tram.

Then, on May 19, Abedi is seen close to the arena at 1.36pm, conducting another ‘hostile reconnaissance’, Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, said. 

He is then captured outside the station carrying a long cylindrical object inside a black bin bag. 

Abedi then gets into a taxi which takes him to a rented flat on Granby Street. 

Then on May 21, the day before the attack, footage shows Abedi walking into the arena’s City Room area before sitting on a stairwell leading up to a mezzanine area – apparently on his phone.

Abedi heads up the stairs to the mezzanine level where he pauses – looking over the bustling City Room below.

On the day of the attack – May 22 – he stakes out the arena yet again after arriving at the Metrolink platform at 6.31pm.

He pauses to tie his shoelaces before entering the City Room entrance at 6.34pm.

But he heads back to the station – possibly after seeing British Transport Police officers – and gets into a taxi.

At 8.30pm, Abedi arrives by tram yet again. He spends around ten minutes in the toilet at the station.

He arrives at the City Room at 8.51pm but leaves again at 9.10pm – getting to the station via a lift – before returning at 9.33pm.

On his final journey, Abedi got into the lift at the ground floor of Victoria Train station. 

CCTV footage captured in the lift shows him apparently adjusting wires underneath his clothing.

Mr Greaney says: ‘It is possible when one studies this photograph carefully to see Abedi adjusting wiring beneath his clothing.’ 

He ‘headed straight for the mezzanine level’ where he stayed for just under an hour before going into the City Room and setting off his devastating bomb. 

Speaking of one of Abedi’s visits to the arena ahead of the attack, Mr Greaney said: ‘On the 21st of May, the CCTV footage captured Salman Abedi on a third occasion, apparently engaged in further hostile reconnaissance.

‘At 18:53 on that day, Abedi was captured walking into the station from the Metro Link tram platform and going up the stairs to the footbridge leading to the City Room, apparently while speaking on his telephone. 

‘At 18:56, he can be observed entering the City Room and sitting down on the stairs to the mezzanine, still on his phone.

‘At 19:04, he then walked up the stairs to the mezzanine level and stood at the top for about eight seconds, looking out over the City Room.’

The City Room allows concertgoers to get to the car park, tram platform and the railway station. 

Paul Greaney QC (pictured), counsel to the inquiry, read the names of each of those murdered

Families, lawyers and chairman of the inquiry Sir John Saunders (pictured) a retired High Court judge, stood with heads bowed for the minute's silence

Families, lawyers and chairman of the inquiry Sir John Saunders (right) a retired High Court judge, stood with heads bowed for the minute’s silence as Paul Greaney QC (left), counsel to the inquiry, read the names of each of those murdered

Transport police officer and a PCSO on duty at Victoria Station ‘went for a break and returned to duty two hours 10 minutes later’ on night of bombing

A British Transport Police officer and a PCSO on duty at Victoria Station, where the Manchester Arena is sited, went for a break and returned to duty two hours 10 minutes later, on the night Salman Abedi bombed the venue.

There were no BTP officers on patrol at the train station as Abedi, carrying his large rucksack bomb, made his final journey to the City Rooms entrance to take up position to carry out his suicide attack, the public inquiry heard.

A witness, Julie Merchant, approached BTP officer Jessica Bullough, around 32 minutes before the deadly bombing, to point out Salman Abedi.

Paul Greaney QC said Ms Merchant cannot recall the details of the conversation with the officer but that it was ‘to do with praying and political correctness’.

The officer cannot remember the conversation taking place, the hearing was told.

She was the first police officer to enter the City Rooms after the bombing, showing considerable bravery, Mr Greaney added.

Experts have concluded there were missed opportunities to identify Abedi as a suicide bomber.

Abedi, 22, was reported to police and security as acting suspiciously in the minutes before he detonated his bomb, the inquiry heard, but no action was taken.

The inquiry was how one member of the public spotted Abedi – who he presumed was praying – wearing a large back pack less than an hour before he detonated his bomb at 10.31pm and another told a British Transport Police (BTP) officer.

Mr Greaney said experts had been asked to look into the security at the arena that night.

Mr Greaney said that ‘of considerable importance, the experts consider, on the basis of the information currently available to them, that, on May 22, there were missed opportunities to identify Salman Abedi as a threat and take mitigating action.’

He said that the experts concluded: ‘If the presence of a potential suicide bomber had been reported, it is very likely that mitigating actions would’ve been taken that could have reduced the impact of the attack.

‘This is because there was sufficient time between Abedi first being spotted by, and also reported to (security) staff and his attack to effectively react.’

Mr Greaney said: ‘The evidence about these potential missed opportunities will need to be considered with the greatest possible care.’

He said whether there were ‘missed opportunities’ to prevent the attack or reduce its deadly impact would be a key consideration for the inquiry, which began on Monday.

It was also revealed at the inquest that a British Transport Police officer and a PCSO on duty at Victoria Station – where the Manchester Arena is sited – went for a break and returned to duty two hours 10 minutes later, on the night Abedi bombed the venue.

There were no BTP officers on patrol at the train station as Abedi, carrying his large rucksack bomb, made his final journey to the City Rooms entrance to take up position to carry out his suicide attack, the public inquiry heard.

A witness, Julie Merchant, approached BTP officer Jessica Bullough, around 32 minutes before the deadly bombing, to point out Salman Abedi.

Mr Greaney QC said Ms Merchant cannot recall the details of the conversation with the officer but that it was ‘to do with praying and political correctness’.

The officer cannot remember the conversation taking place, the hearing was told.

She was the first police officer to enter the City Rooms after the bombing, showing considerable bravery, Mr Greaney added.

Loved ones of the 22 people who died in the bombing stood in silent remembrance as the names of the victims were recited at the opening of the hearings.

The sombre proceedings began with Mr Greaney reading the names of each of those murdered by suicide bomber Salman Abedi on May 22 2017.

Sir John Saunders, a retired High Court judge, is leading the probe examining events before, during and after the attack at the end of an Ariana Grande concert. 

Summarising the evidence at the beginning of the inquiry process, Mr Greaney described how William Drysdale spotted Abedi in the City Room of the arena and a second witness with Mr Drysdale then approached a British Transport Police (BTP) officer.

The officer cannot recall the conversation, the hearing was told.

Loved ones of the 22 people (some pictured) murdered at the Manchester Arena bombing have stood in silent remembrance at the opening of the public inquiry into the terror attack

Loved ones of the 22 people (some pictured) murdered at the Manchester Arena bombing have stood in silent remembrance at the opening of the public inquiry into the terror attack

The sombre start to proceedings began with Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, reading the names of each of those murdered (some victims pictured) by suicide bomber Salman Abedi on May 22, 2017

The sombre start to proceedings began with Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, reading the names of each of those murdered (some victims pictured) by suicide bomber Salman Abedi on May 22, 2017

Two more witnesses, known only as A and B, a couple who had taken their daughter to the concert, also saw a man matching Abedi’s description acting suspiciously and witness A challenged him.

The man said the suspect looked ‘out of place’ carrying a large rucksack in a crowded place.

Paul Greaney QC, said the witness spoke to the suspicious person.

‘He asked the man, what have you got in your rucksack, but got no reply.

MrA then said, ‘It doesn’t look very good you know, you with a bag in a place like this. What are you doing?’

The man replied: ‘I’m waiting for somebody, mate. Have you got the time? What time is it?’

Witness A then spoke to Mohammed Agha, employed by venue security firm Showsec, but said he was ‘fobbed off.’

Mohammed Agha then spoke to fellow Showsec employee Kyle Lawler about the suspicious man and what they should do, the inquiry heard.

Mr Lawler is then said to have tried to radio his security control but could not get through. He then spotted the man get up and start walking towards the arena entrance.

His statement continued: ‘I just froze and did not get anything out on the radio. I knew at that point it was too late.’

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquest, said the accounts of Showsec employees differ about what happened with ‘gaps and discrepancies’ between their accounts and the CCTV evidence captured at the arena.

Earlier, formally opening the inquiry, Sir John said: ‘This is an exercise in establishing the truth.

‘If I conclude things went wrong then I shall say so, but we are not looking for scapegoats. We are searching for the truth.

A view inside the room where the Manchester Arena Inquiry is being held, at Manchester Magistrates Court

A view inside the room where the Manchester Arena Inquiry is being held, at Manchester Magistrates Court

‘The explosion killed 22 people, including children, the youngest was eight years old.

‘Salman Abedi blew himself up in the explosion but he intended as many people as possible would die with him.’

Sir John said some evidence must be heard in secret to prevent further similar terrorist attacks.

Abedi was known to the security services, and a senior MI5 officer, known only as witness J, is expected to give evidence to the inquiry later this year.

The bomber’s brother, Hashem Abedi, now 23, was last month jailed for life with a minimum 55 years before parole, for his part in the deadly bomb plot, which left hundreds of other people injured.

Some evidence, involving information judged to be potentially of use to terrorists, is subject to restriction orders, and those hearings will be closed to the public.

The most sensitive evidence is likely to be heard at closed hearings, with both press and public excluded because of the risk to national security.  



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