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Illustration by Security Management

Manchester Bombing Inquiry Finds Serious Security Shortcomings

An independent public inquiry into the mass attack at a 2017 Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, concluded this week that there were “serious shortcomings” in security that enabled a suicide bomber to carry out his attack.

On 22 May 2017, Salman Abedi detonated a knapsack bomb in the foyer of Manchester Arena, killing 22 people and injuring many others as they were leaving the show. The inquiry determined that Abedi should have been identified as a threat by security professionals “and a disruptive intervention taken.” There were multiple missed opportunities to disrupt the attack, and retired judge John Saunders—who is leading the inquiry—cited failures by arena operator SMG, security company Showsec, and British Transport Police, according to The Washington Post.

Saunders said authorities showed a reluctance to believe an attack could happen, despite recent deadly attacks in Britain and across Europe. On the night of the bombing, the national terror level was classified as “severe,” meaning an attack was highly likely, the BBC reported.

According to Saunders, “Whilst the threat was not specific to any particular premises, the arena was always a possible target for a terrorist.…Everybody concerned with security at the arena should have been doing their job in the knowledge that a terrorist attack might occur on that night. They weren’t. No one believed it could happen to them.”

In addition, he said, a security steward neglected to follow up on a report that Abedi was loitering in a CCTV blind spot on a mezzanine above the arena foyer with a large knapsack.

The inquiry also found that there was no British Transport Police officer present in the foyer, despite orders; two on-duty officers took a break of more than two hours, including a trip to buy kebabs; the CCTV blind spot where the attacker hid had existed for years without remedy; Showsec was criticized for not ensuring staff properly checked the mezzanine where the terrorist hit, particularly when performing regular pre-egress checks to ensure exit routes were clear; steward counterterrorism training was a “significant failure;” risk assessments were deemed “inadequate; and SMG and Showsec “failed to take steps to improve security at the arena that they should have taken.”

During the inquiry, SMG said that experts “did not see evidence that the security operation in place at Manchester Arena was out of step with the operations being used at other comparable venues,” but the arena operator added that “this doesn’t give us any comfort,” BBC reported.

Showsec personnel interviewed in the ongoing inquiry shared their experiences about how they quickly tried to help injured people, using merchandise t-shirts, belt ribbons, and other makeshift tourniquets to treat wounds.

“When the mistakes and shortcomings set out in the report are considered, it needs to be at the forefront of that consideration that responsibility for what happened and for causing so many deaths and serious injuries lies with Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber, and his brother Hashem, who assisted with the preparations,” Saunders said in a press conference. Hashem Abedi was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to 55 years in prison for his involvement in the attack. “The brothers intended to cause as much harm as they could. No other person or organization acted with the intention of causing any injury or with any idea their actions or lack of action would or could assist a suicide bomber carrying out his evil intentions.”

The first volume of the inquiry’s findings is now available, and two subsequent reports—one on emergency response and the other on whether the attack could have been prevented—will be released as hearings continue.