Abedi had traveled to Libya within the last 12 months, one of multiple countries he had visited, the official said. And while he had “clear ties to al Qaeda,” the official said, Abedi could have also had connections to other groups.
Members of his own family had even informed on him in the past, telling British authorities that he was dangerous, according to the intelligence official.
The U.S. official said Abedi’s bomb was “big and sophisticated,” using materials hard to obtain in Britain — meaning “it’s almost impossible to see he didn’t have help.”
Could Abedi have been the chief bombmaker? Doesn’t look that way:
#manchesterattack Bomber thought to have been a 'mule' using device built by someone else. More Govt announcements expected today.
— Frank Gardner (@FrankRGardner) May 24, 2017
That helps explain the three additional arrests in Manchester this morning. “It is very clear that this is a network we are investigating,” said the chief constable. The Al Qaeda ties are a bit surprising, though, not because ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack but because French intelligence says Abedi certainly had ties to ISIS too. Given the competition between ISIS and AQ for preeminence among jihadis, you would think each group would be wary of dealing with someone known to be associated with the other. Assuming he really was an Al Qaeda loyalist, maybe the attack in Manchester was designed to try to raise AQ’s prestige as a threat to the west after it had been eclipsed by more spectacular attacks committed in the name of ISIS. This may be a perverse game of jihadi oneupsmanship.
Jazz noted this morning that one of Abedi’s associates in Libya, Abd al-Baset Azzouz, ran an AQ chapter there and is known as an expert bombmaker. Is he the mastermind or did the plot develop elsewhere — maybe even in another country, let alone among another group? Intelligence reports claim that Abedi probably spent time in Syria too:
The Sun revealed the killer is suspected of receiving terror training in Syria, where he may have visited secretly while seeing family in Libya…
Sources said there were fears Abedi may have taken advantage of the conflict to make the simple journey across the Med to Syria without alerting the British authorities.
One revealed: “His potential ties to Syria now very much forms one line of inquiry.”
Abedi’s father phoned the Associated Press this morning to say that he’s sure his now dead son is innocent. Slight problem: The elder Abedi has also been accused of fighting with Al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Libya in the 1990s. Both he and one of his other sons, the bomber’s brothers, have been arrested this afternoon in Tripoli. A second brother was arrested in Manchester last night. Was this … a family cell?
Exit question: Did a bigmouthed U.S. intelligence official compromise the UK’s investigation by blabbing about Abedi’s identity to NBC before the Brits were prepared? “Suddenly you’ve got 10,000 reporters descending on the bomber’s house,” said one counterterrorism expert, “when maybe the police wanted to approach it more subtly.” Presumably the cell members went into hiding once the plot was set in motion, not when Abedi’s name leaked, so hopefully no suspects were lost by NBC’s inadvertent tip-off. Hopefully.