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Salman Abedi: UK Police Believe He Acted Alone

For days, police in the UK informed the media they were snatching up the major players in Salman Abedi's terrorist network in Manchester. Despite 16 arrests, today today the Manchester Police acknowledged that the "network" theory isn't panning out. It appears he acted alone. Here is the latest release by the Manchester Police Department.

Police now say Abedi bought the materials himself and built the bomb on his own in the four days after he returned from Libya.

Five of the people arrested have been released, three of them today . More releases are expected. [More...]

Det Ch Supt Jackson said Abedi himself had made "most of the purchases of the core components", adding: "What is becoming apparent is that many of his movements and actions have been carried out alone during the four days from him landing in the country and committing this awful attack.

"It is vital that we make sure that he is not part of a wider network and we cannot rule this out yet. "There remain a number of things that concern us about his behaviour prior to that attack and those of his associates."

The three men released were described as "two men aged 20 and 24 from the Fallowfield area and a 37-year-old man from the Blacklea [sic] area."

It sounds like those released are Abedi's 24 year old cousin, Abdallah Forjani, who rented the Fade Away barber shop in Fallowfield which Salman visited, and possibly one of two men arrested with him, and Aiman Elwafi, the landlord of the flat in Blackley who called police to tell them Adedi had rented the apartment when he saw his photo on the news.

Of the 16 people arrested so far, 11 remain in custody.

Some others who were arrested: Zuhair Nassrat, 19, in Gorton, who is one of 3 brothers. Salman stayed with his family for about 6 weeks when his parents moved back to Libya. Also arrested were two brothers who are students, Mohamed and Yahya Werfalli, ages 20 and 23. Mohamed is a chemistry student who also may work for Amazon Prime. They were arrested in Cheatham Hill. Also: Ala Zakry, 23, a digital marketing specialist and pilot trainee. He was arrested in Shoreham-by-Sea, more than 250 miles from Manchester. He runs the Hasoub Alafak online marketplace. His neighbors and former landlord are skeptical he could have been involved. (The Hasoub Alafak website also offers international electronic funds and internet payment services.) Also still under arrest: Salman's 23 year old brother Ismail (who recently got married, his wife is expecting and he has a job.)

I've already reported on his brother Hashim, who confessed to a connection with ISIS during post-arrest interrogation by a Libyan special militia called the Special Deterrence Forces.

Hashim had been under investigation for a different crime for more than a month -- planning the assassination of Martin Kobler, the U.N. special envoy to Libya, during one of his trips to Tripoli, which authorities claim was prevented.

The plot to target Martin Kobler, the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, during a visit to the capital Tripoli earlier this year was interrupted before it could be carried out, diplomatic sources said.

Libyan security services had been monitoring the group for months and claim they found Hashim Abedi, the 20-year-old brother of suicide bomber Salman, 22, to be a “significant player”.

They were apparently in the late stages of building an explosive device and intended to hit German national Mr Kobler’s convoy.

The Telegraph, along with Henk Van Ess of Bellingcat, uncovered Hassim Abedi's Facebook account. Hassim, as has been reported, was friends with the 18 year old with suspected gang ties who was brutally killed by a rival gang. Reportedly, Salman was upset by this. I'm sure he was. But I don't see this as a motive to for the Manchester Act -- 13 young men were arrested shortly after the murder, most of whom are now on trial (the trial is expected to last 3 months.) Authorities didn't sweep the murder under the rug. I found it interesting that Van Ess uncovered that until a few months ago on FB, Hashim referred to himself as "Hashim Corleone Abedi." The murdered youth, whose FB page is still alive in his memory, was known as "Lansky." What does this have to do with ISIS or terrorism? Nothing, so far as I can tell.

I do see a gang connection (reportedly between the Moss Side Bloods and Rusholme Crips.) But I don't think it's easy (if even possible) for intelligence to determine the difference between an active gang member, a ‘gang-associate’, someone who is at risk of gang violence and a former gang member.

In 2012 (5 years ago, at age 14 or 15) Hashim posted his admiration for the the 9/11 attacks and Osama. Friends described him as "brainy" whereas Salman was considered not too bright.

As to the connection between the Abedi brothers and dead ISIS recruiter Raphael Hostey (aka Abu Qaqa al-Britani), Van Ess did not find social media links between them. There were links between Hashim and Rafael's younger brother. The article says British police are looking for a connection between Raphael and Salman.

Hashim may have indeed moved onto terrorism and become enamored of ISIS or al Qaida. But his confession under interrogation in Libya and old social media contacts and comments don't confirm anything for me, especially how much he knew of his brother's plans.

The article ends with a claim by the Libyan Special Deterrence Force (which is itself a militia) that Salman traveled to Germany. It says German officials say the same thing. I've read more convincing reports that he changed planes in Germany and Turkey en route home from Libya to Manchester four days before the bombing.

As to the Special Deterrence Force being a militia:

Libya’s RADA militia (Arabic: ‘Special Deterrence Force’) is a new specialized brigade at the junction of military and police operations, formed with the objective of tackling terrorism, crime and human trafficking. The militia is comprised of roughly 500 special agents, who prepare routine raids in Tripoli, and 400 regular fighters based at the Mitiga airbase. The majority of RADA members come from the Supreme Security Committee (SSC), a security apparatus which was created under the former National Transitional Council government. The RADA supports the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

Nevertheless, the group operates as an autonomous unit under the GNA Ministry of Interior. The RADA’s main operational areas are in Tripoli’s south and east, including some important zones such as Souq al-Joumaa, the home neighbourhood of the group’s commander.

The head of the militia is Abdul Raouf Kara, a former steel mill manager who joined the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. He is a hardline Islamist with a fearful reputation and a Salafist vision for Libya’s future. Now, Kara leads one of the most most powerful militias in Tripoli, competing with groups such as the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade (TRB).

The RADA (Special Deterrent Force) has a fair share of critics:

The RADA has not received unanimous approval in Tripoli. The special force is accused of acting as a form of ‘moral police’ enforcing conservative dress and behaviour on Tripoli’s civilians and using brutal intimidation rather than focusing on tracking terrorist groups. This reputation has harmed the GNA’s credibility in Tripoli and diminished the little legitimacy it has, given the GNA’s public support for the RADA.

The militia hardliners are mainly Madkhali Salafis, an Islamist ideology that refers to followers of the Saudi cleric Rabia bin Hadi al-Madkhali, who promotes a doctrine of obedience to a sitting political authority (wali al-amr). Today, they focus on combatting prostitution, consumption of alcohol and narcotics and other activities they judged anti-Islamic.

So the police have moved from asserting they have just about identified the entire terrorist network to believing there may be no network -- Abedi may have acted alone -- they just have some more work to do before confirming this. Just a few days ago:

The head of national counter terrorism policing said “immense” progress had been made in the probe into the associates of Salman Abedi and a “large part” of his suspected network had been dismantled.

Mark Rowley added: “They are very significant, these arrests. “We are very happy we’ve got our hands around some of the key players that we are concerned about but there’s still a little bit more to do.”

It also now appears that Salman self-funded his bombing purchases, rental of apartments and trips to Libya with student loan money (apparently he got the loan before dropping out.)

Salman Abedi sounds like just another mentally disturbed loner who learned how to build a bomb from instructions in magazines and videos provided online by both ISIS and Al Qaida. No evidence has emerged publicly to support media reports (or statements by French interior minister, Gérard Collomb ) that he traveled to Syria. Or that he found time to squeeze in terror training in Libya during his trips to Libya to stay with his family. The preacher whom the New York Times identified (though an anonymous intelligence official) as having connections to Salman in Libya has denied the claim, stating it is false. He said he has long been a staunch opponent of ISIS, which has issued a death threat against him. His 2014 video was taken out of context -- he was referring to Libyan rebel fighters, not terrorism. Is he telling the truth? I have no idea. But I don't see any evidence, other than an uncorroborated report of a purported intelligence official claiming otherwise, and that alone is reason to treat the allegation with caution.

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