LONDON: At the Old Bailey in London on Tuesday, Hashem Abedi, the brother of Manchester bomber Salman Abedi, was convicted of the murder of 22 people. Prosecution lawyers successfully argued that he was “jointly responsible” for the attack at a pop concert on May 22, 2017.
But claims emerged during the trial that UK intelligence agencies were complicit in the torture of Abedi while he was being detained and interrogated in Libya after his brother’s suicide attack — allegations that lawyers for the British government failed to deny.
The claims, which could not be reported in the UK press while the trial was continuing, raise serious questions for security agencies MI5 and MI6, not to mention Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was Britain’s foreign secretary at the time.
Salman Abedi — who was of Libyan descent and, like his younger brother, born in Britain — detonated an explosive device at the Manchester Arena, as people were leaving an Ariana Grande concert, killing himself and 22 people and wounding 260. Hashem Abedi claimed that after the attack he was detained in Tripoli by Rada Special Deterrence Forces, a militia linked to the Libyan Ministry of Interior.
He said he was interrogated and tortured by the militia to find out what he knew about subjects such as the geography of Manchester. This would only have been known to them, he claimed, if the questions had been supplied by British agencies. He added that he was twice visited in Libya, in the presence of the militia, by MI5 and MI6 agents.
Abedi’s lawyer, Stephen Kamlish, told his trial that the facility in which his client was held was a “torture establishment” well known to the British security services, and said it spoke volumes that the prosecution did not deny Abedi’s allegations about the role played by the UK in his detention.
“We would expect to see a point-by-point response, but they (the prosecution) have not sought to gainsay any factual or legal assertions,” Kamlish told the court. “They (the security services) were aware that he (Abedi) was being tortured early on and did nothing to try to stop it. The UK government did nothing to try to prevent it.
“He was held at the airport, which was — and it must have been known to the British government — a notorious torture establishment where people are known to have been tortured and killed.
“He was arrested the day after the bombing and, until the end of May, he was asked questions about people in Manchester and addresses, none of which could have been known to his torturers. It would not have been possible,” he said.
“They must have received the questions from either Operation Manteline (the investigation into the Manchester Bombing) or the security services or both. Those questions under torture went on for almost a month. There was extreme torture on occasion. This was all reported to representatives at the (UK) consulate, well before an application for extradition was made.”
In 2018, the UK Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) admitted that the British government had, for a number of years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001, engaged in human-rights abuses on “hundreds” of occasions, with MI5, MI6 and other agencies submitting questions for terror suspects being held and interrogated by foreign agencies known to engage in torture. These cases of rendition are known to include individuals held and tortured in Libya, with the complicity of UK intelligence officers.
The same year, the UK formally apologized to the members of one Libyan family who were abducted and held by Libyan security services, and reached an out of court settlement with a second Libyan family over the role played by MI6 in their respective abductions and alleged torture.
But according to the ISC, UK complicity in the rendition of terrorism suspects ended in 2010, when the Labour government that was in power at the time of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent US-led “War on Terror” was replaced by a Conservative-led coalition government.
That government introduced a new protocol, known as Consolidated Guidance (CG), to help intelligence officers avoid becoming involved in human-rights abuses.
Abedi’s family told the UK government in 2017 that their son was being tortured in Libyan custody, Kamlish said, adding that at one point he was transferred to a medical clinic to receive treatment for a groin injury. The lawyer also said a British consular official allegedly visited Abedi in custody and documented and photographed a series of injuries sustained during interrogation.
However, the investigatory powers commissioner in charge of overseeing the protocol recorded no concerns about how CG was being applied to Abedi’s detention at the time.
Kamlish also highlighted the extradition process under which Abedi was returned to the UK. He claimed it was illegal under Libyan law, and questioned the role played by Boris Johnson, the then foreign secretary.
As part of CG protocol, MI6 asks the foreign secretary to sign a warrant, under the Intelligence Services Act, that can “disapply” a case from UK law. This protects officers from potential criminal or civil prosecutions in the UK should they become involved in the torture of a person held outside of the country.
Before Abedi’s extradition, Johnson visited Tripoli to announce a £9.2 million ($11 million) package of aid to help fight terrorism and illegal migration in the North African country. This, Kamlish argued, essentially amounted to a bribe.
The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Abedi, 22, who pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder and refused to give evidence in his own defense, faces a mandatory life sentence. A date has yet to be set for his sentencing. A public inquiry into the attack is due to begin in June.