MI5 dismissed two lots of intelligence ahead of Manchester Arena bombing, officer admits

MI5 dismissed two lots of intelligence ahead of Manchester Arena bombing, officer admits
A handout file photo issued by Greater Manchester police of a CCTV image of Salman Abedi at Victoria station on the way to Manchester Arena, May 22, 2017. (GMP)
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Updated 14 March 2022

MI5 dismissed two lots of intelligence ahead of Manchester Arena bombing, officer admits

MI5 dismissed two lots of intelligence ahead of Manchester Arena bombing, officer admits
  • 22 were killed when terrorist Salman Abedi detonated a suicide vest after an Ariana Grande concert
  • Evidence received was ‘highly relevant to the planned attack,’ witness says

LONDON: The British security service has refused to reveal details of two pieces of intelligence it received and dismissed in the months before the Manchester arena bombing, an inquiry has heard.

MI5 did not explain the intelligence, but said it was assessed to be “non-terrorist criminality.”

An inquiry into the events surrounding the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, which killed 22, is ongoing — and many parts of it, for the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks, have been carried out behind closed doors, due to the sensitive nature of what is being discussed.

A senior MI5 officer, known as Witness J, has been answering questions for two days, alongside four colleagues.

One officer admitted that, in retrospect, the intelligence received was “highly relevant to the planned attack” and could have been understood at the time to indicate “activity of pressing national security concern.”

The 2017 attack saw Islamist terrorist Salman Abedi detonate a suicide vest in the Manchester Arena at the end of a pop concert. He was assisted by his brother, Hashem Abedi, who is now serving more than two decades behind bars for his role in the deadly attack, the victims of which included many children.

In his closing statements to the inquiry, Pete Weatherby, advocating on behalf of the victims’ families, questioned whether MI5 had approached the inquiry in the right way.

He cited one witness, Witness Z, who told the inquiry it would be “hugely damaging” for MI5 and police if the inquiry had “the unintended consequence of sapping the confidence of those at the investigative and operational front line” to make decisions.

Weatherby said: “A healthy organization welcomes scrutiny — only unhealthy ones seek to avoid it.

“MI5 is a public authority and as such it is accountable to the public. The idea that the scrutiny or criticisms of a public inquiry might in some way adversely affect national security is not just plain wrong, it is corrosive in that it undermines confidence.

“Independent scrutiny and criticism is a necessary precursor to making things better for the future.”

He added: “What is hugely damaging to any public inquiry is the belief that scrutiny and criticism is somehow harmful.”

He also warned: “Failure which is not fully addressed will recur, and more lives will be lost.”

Weatherby also suggested that the service had lost sight of the plot because it was focused on Syria.

“Were the security services too fixated on Syria, and missed the risks from elsewhere? Were they too fixed on actual positive evidence of attack preparation, rather than seeing where the attack might come from?

He said: “The families I represent would really like to know what exactly did Salman Abedi have to do to prompt a meaningful response from the security services?

Weatherby pointed out that there should have been “real alarm” over the radicalization of Salman Abedi after his links with the Daesh-affiliated Libyan group Katiba Al-Bittar Al-Libi emerged.

“There was persistent information coming to them about Salman Abedi. He did not emerge from the shadows,” Weatherby said, asking: “We know from other inquiries and inquests that sometimes, sadly, there is nothing that can be done to stop individual outrages and attacks. But for the reasons we have outlined, was this one of them?”


Putin's aide warns US against pressing for war crimes court

Putin's aide warns US against pressing for war crimes court
Updated 57 min 52 sec ago

Putin's aide warns US against pressing for war crimes court

Putin's aide warns US against pressing for war crimes court
  • Dmitry Medvedev denounced the US for what he described as its efforts to “spread chaos and destruction across the world for the sake of 'true democracy'"
  • “That's why the rotten dogs of war are barking in such a disgusting way"

MOSCOW: A top Kremlin official warned the U.S. Wednesday that it could face the “wrath of God” if it pursues efforts to help establish an international tribunal to investigate Russia's action in Ukraine.
The Russian lower house speaker urged Washington to remember that Alaska used to belong to Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, denounced the U.S. for what he described as its efforts to “spread chaos and destruction across the world for the sake of 'true democracy.'"
“The entire U.S. history since the times of subjugation of the native Indian population represents a series of bloody wars,” Medvedev charged in a long diatribe on his Telegram channel, pointing out the U.S. nuclear bombing of Japan during World War II and the war in Vietnam.
“Was anyone held responsible for those crimes? What tribunal condemned the sea of blood spilled by the U.S. there?”
Responding to the U.S.-backed calls for an international tribunal to prosecute the perceived war crimes by Russia in Ukraine, Medvedev rejected it as an attempt by the U.S. “to judge others while staying immune from any trial.”
“It won't work with Russia, they know it well,” Medvedev concluded. “That's why the rotten dogs of war are barking in such a disgusting way."
"The U.S. and its useless stooges should remember the words of the Bible: Do not judge and you will not be judged ... so that the great day of His wrath doesn't come to their home one day,” Medvedev said, referring to the Apocalypse.
He noted that the “idea to punish a country with the largest nuclear potential is absurd and potentially creates the threat to mankind's existence.”
The warning follows a series of tough statements from Putin and his officials that pointed at the Russian nuclear arsenals to warn the West against interfering with Moscow's action in Ukraine.
Medvedev, who served as Russia’s president in 2008-2012 when Putin shifted into the prime minister’s post due to term limits, was widely seen by the West as more liberal compared with his mentor. In recent months, however, he has remarks that have sounded much tougher than those issued by the most hawkish Kremlin officials.
In another blustery warning to the U.S., Vyacheslav Volodin, a longtime Putin aide who serves as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, warned Wednesday that Washington should remember that Alaska was part of Russia when it freezes Russian assets. Russia colonized Alaska and established several settlements there until the U.S. purchased it from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million.
“When they attempt to appropriate our assets abroad, they should be aware that we also have something to claim back,” Volodin said during a meeting with lawmakers.


Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants

Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants
Updated 06 July 2022

Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants

Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants
  • The new regulation applies to about 136,000 people who have lived in Germany for at least five years
  • Those who qualify can first apply for a one-year residency status and subsequently apply for permanent residency

BERLIN: Tens of thousands of migrants, who have been living in Germany for years without long-lasting permission to remain in the country, will be eligible for permanent residency after the government approved a new migration bill Wednesday.
The new regulation, endorsed by the Cabinet, applies to about 136,000 people who have lived in Germany for at least five years by Jan. 1, 2022.
Those who qualify can first apply for a one-year residency status and subsequently apply for permanent residency in Germany.
They must earn enough money to make an independent living in the country, speak German and prove that they are “well integrated” into society.
Those under the age of 27 can already apply for a path to permanent residency in Germany after having lived in the country for three years.
“We want people who are well integrated to have good opportunities in our country," Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told reporters. “In this way, we also put an end to bureaucracy and uncertainty for people who have already become part of our society.”
The new migration regulation will also make it easier for asylum-seekers to learn German — so far only those with a realistic chance of receiving asylum in the country were eligible for language classes — with all asylum applicants getting the chance to enroll in classes.
For skilled laborers, such as information technology specialists and others that hold professions that are desperately needed in Germany, the new regulation will allow that they can move to Germany together with their families right away, which wasn’t possible before. Family members don't need to have any language skills before moving to the country.
“We need to attract skilled workers more quickly. We urgently need them in many sectors,” Faeser said. “We want skilled workers to come to Germany very quickly and gain a foothold here.”
The bill will also make it easier to deport criminals, includes extending detention pending deportation for certain offenders from three months to a maximum of six months. The extension is intended to give authorities more time to prepare for deportation, such as clarifying identity, obtaining missing papers and organizing a seat on an airplane, German news agency dpa reported.
“In the future, it will be easier to revoke the right of residence of criminals,” Faeser said. "For offenders, we will make it easier to order detention pending deportation, thus preventing offenders who are obliged to leave the country from going into hiding before being deported.”


In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect

In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect
Updated 06 July 2022

In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect

In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect
  • The pair were shot dead on Monday afternoon in a village near the town of Tarbes
  • Since then police had been carrying out "a full search" of the area around Jaca

MADRID: Spanish police were hunting the central Pyrenees on Wednesday for a man suspected of killing two teachers in a French village across the border, a spokeswoman said.
The pair were shot dead on Monday afternoon in a village near the town of Tarbes, where they both worked, with the suspected gunman fleeing on a motorcycle, a source close to the French inquiry told AFP.
His motorcycle was found abandoned on the Spanish side of the border in the northeastern Aragon region, prompting Spanish police to pick up the search on Tuesday, a source close to the inquiry told AFP.
Since then police had been carrying out “a full search” of the area around Jaca, a town that lies about 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of Tarbes, a police spokeswoman told AFP.
The search continued through the night and “is ongoing,” she said, without giving further details.
Neither French nor Spanish police gave any details about the suspect’s identity.
The teachers were shot dead in Pouyastruc village on Monday, prosecutors said.
The first victim, a 32-year-old woman, was found lying in the street by neighbors, while other, a man of 55, was found dead in his home, just meters away, the prosecutor said.
The suspect, who is in his 30s, was the woman’s former partner, a source close to the inquiry said.
They had two children together and were in the process of separating, suggesting the murders may have been a crime of passion.
The woman, identified as Aurelie Pardon, taught French at the school in Tarbes while the man, Gabriel Fourmigue, was a sports teacher at the same establishment who was known for representing France in bobsleigh at international level in the early 1990s.


UK’s Johnson battles to stay in job after top ministers quit

UK’s Johnson battles to stay in job after top ministers quit
Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party. (AFP)
Updated 45 min 49 sec ago

UK’s Johnson battles to stay in job after top ministers quit

UK’s Johnson battles to stay in job after top ministers quit
  • Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party

LONDON: A defiant British Prime Minister Boris Johnson battled to remain in office Wednesday, shrugging off calls for his resignation after two top ministers and a slew of junior officials said they could no longer serve under his scandal-tarred leadership.
Members of the opposition Labour Party showered Johnson with shouts of “Go! Go!’’ during the weekly ritual of Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons as critics argued the leader’s days were numbered following his poor handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a senior official.
But more damningly, members of Johnson’s own Conservative Party — wearied by the many scandals he has faced — also challenged their leader, with one asking whether there was anything that might prompt him to resign.
“Frankly … the job of the prime minister in difficult circumstances, when he’s been handed a colossal mandate, is to keep going,’’ Johnson replied, with the bluster he has used to fend off critics throughout nearly three years in office. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”
His fellow Conservatives listened quietly, but offered little support.
Johnson is known for his ability to wiggle out of tight spots, managing to remain in power despite suggestions that he was too close to party donors, protected supporters from bullying and corruption allegations, and misled Parliament about parties in government offices that broke COVID-19 lockdown rules.
He hung on even when 41 percent of Conservative lawmakers voted to oust him in a no-confidence vote last month and formerly loyal lieutenants urged him to resign.
But recent revelations that Johnson knew about sexual misconduct allegations against a lawmaker before he promoted the man to a senior position in his government have pushed him to the brink.
Many of his fellow Conservatives are concerned that Johnson no longer has the moral authority to govern at a time when difficult decisions are needed to address soaring food and energy prices, rising COVID-19 infections and the war in Ukraine. Others worry that a leader renowned for his ability to win elections may now be a liability at the ballot box.
Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who helped trigger the current crisis when he resigned Tuesday night, captured the mood of many lawmakers when he said Johnson’s actions threatened to undermine the integrity of the Conservative Party and the British government.
“At some point we have to conclude that enough is enough,” he told fellow lawmakers. “I believe that point is now.”
Johnson’s grilling in Parliament was the first of two Wednesday. He was also questioned by a committee of senior lawmakers.
How Johnson handles the questioning may determine whether the simmering rebellion in the Conservative Party gathers enough strength to oust him. Also looming was a meeting of the leadership of a powerful Conservative Party committee — and action there could signal whether lawmakers have the appetite to pursue another vote of no-confidence.
Months of discontent over Johnson’s judgment and ethics erupted when Javid and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak resigned within minutes of each other on Tuesday evening. The two heavyweights of the Cabinet were responsible for tackling two of the biggest issues facing Britain — the cost-of-living crisis and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In a scathing letter, Sunak said “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. … I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”
Javid said the party needed “humility, grip and a new direction” but “it is clear this situation will not change under your leadership.”
Mindful of the need to shore up confidence, Johnson quickly replaced the ministers, promoting Nadhim Zahawi from the education department to treasury chief and installing his chief of staff, Steve Barclay, as health secretary.
But a string of resignations by more junior members — from both the moderate and right-wing of the Conservative party — that followed late Tuesday and early Wednesday underscored the danger to Johnson.
Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said late Tuesday that the prime minister’s time was finally up.
“It’s a bit like the death of Rasputin: He’s been poisoned, stabbed, he’s been shot, his body’s been dumped in a freezing river, and still he lives,’’ Mitchell told the BBC. “But this is an abnormal prime minister, a brilliantly charismatic, very funny, very amusing, big, big character. But I’m afraid he has neither the character nor the temperament to be our prime minister.”
The final straw for Sunak and Javid was the prime minister’s shifting explanations about his handling of allegations against Chris Pincher.
Last week, Pincher resigned as Conservative deputy chief whip after complaints he groped two men at a private club. That triggered a series of reports about past allegations leveled against Pincher and questions about what Johnson knew when he tapped Pincher for a senior job enforcing party discipline.
Johnson’s office initially said he wasn’t aware of the previous accusations when he promoted Pincher in February. By Monday, a spokesman said Johnson did know of the allegations — but they were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”
When a former top civil servant in the Foreign Office contradicted that, saying Johnson was briefed about a 2019 allegation that resulted in a formal complaint, Johnson’s office said the prime minister had forgotten about the briefing.
It was all too much for ministers who have been sent out to defend the government’s position in radio and TV interviews, only to find the story changed within a few hours.
Bim Afolami, who quit as Conservative Party vice chairman on Tuesday, said he had been willing to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt — until the Pincher affair.
“The difficulty is not overall the program of the government,” he said. “The problem is character and integrity in Downing Street, and I think that people in the Conservative Party and people in the country know that.”
Paul Drechsler, chair of the International Chamber of Commerce in Britain, said change is needed at the top if the government is going to address a growing economic crisis.
“I would say the most important thing to do is to feed people who are hungry,’’ he told the BBC. “The poorest in our society are going to be starving to death the second half of this year. That needs to be addressed.”


Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks
Updated 06 July 2022

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks
  • Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries

ISLAMABAD: Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said Wednesday that Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks against other countries, and he asked the international community to not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
The Taliban say they are adhering to an agreement they signed with the United States in 2020 — before retaking power — in which they promised to fight terrorists. Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries.
“We assure our neighbors, the region and the world that we will not allow anyone to use our territory to threaten the security of other countries. We also want other countries not to interfere in our internal affairs,” Akhundzada said in an address ahead of the Eid Al-Adha holiday.
The Taliban were ousted by a US-led coalition in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The religious group captured power again in mid-August, during the chaotic last weeks of the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The international community has been wary of any recognition or cooperation with the Taliban, especially after they restricted the rights of women and minorities — measures that harken back to their harsh rule when they were last in power in the late 1990s.
Akhundzada, the spiritual chief of the Taliban, has remained a reclusive figure. He rose to leader of the Islamist movement in a swift transition of power after a 2016 US drone strike killed his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
After taking over, Akhundzada secured the backing of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who showered the cleric with praise, calling him “the emir of the faithful.” The endorsement by bin Laden’s heir helped seal his jihadist credentials with the Taliban’s longtime allies.
However, in his Eid message Akhundzada said: “Within the framework of mutual interaction and commitment, we want good, diplomatic, economic and political relations with the world, including the United States, and we consider this in the interest of all sides.”
A three-day assembly of Islamic clerics and tribal elders in the Afghan capital that concluded Saturday included pledges of support for the Taliban and calls on the international community to recognize the country’s Taliban-led government.
In a surprise development, the reclusive Akhundzada came to Kabul from his base in southern Kandahar province and addressed the gathering Friday. It was believed to be his first visit to the Afghan capital since the Taliban seized power.
In an hour-long speech at the assembly carried by state radio, Akhundzada called the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan a “victory for the Muslim world.”
A powerful earthquake in June killed more than 1,000 people in eastern Afghanistan, igniting yet another crisis for the economically struggling country. Overstretched aid groups already keeping millions of Afghans alive rushed supplies to the quake victims, but most countries responded tepidly to Taliban calls for international help.
The international cut-off of Afghanistan’s financing has deepened the country’s economic collapse and fueled its humanitarian crises.