British intelligence services failed to investigate Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi despite being aware that he had contact with six MI5 “subjects of interest” before the attack, a court has heard.
A senior MI5 officer defended the decision not to probe Abedi, who killed 22 people in a suicide bombing in May 2017.
Abedi was made a subject of interest in 2014 but his file was later closed. He made two prison visits to convicted terrorist Abdalraouf Abdallah, the second of which was in January 2017, four months before the attack.
But the officer, who was identified as Witness J and screened from public view at an inquiry, said there was no intelligence that Abedi’s visits were linked to terrorist plotting.
“The decision not to open [an investigation] was a reasonable one,” he said.
Twice in the months before the attack, intelligence was received by MI5 about Abedi but it was assessed and deemed to relate to possible non-terrorist criminality.
In retrospect, this intelligence was highly relevant to the planned attack but the significance of it was not fully appreciated at the time, the inquiry heard.
The inquiry was told that from 2013 to 2017, Abedi was identified as being in direct contact with three subjects of interest – one suspected of planning travel to Syria, one with links to Al Qaeda and the third with links to extremists in Libya.
Between April 2016 and April 2017, he was identified as a second-level contact with three more subjects of interest, all with suspected links to ISIS.
It was suggested to Witness J that someone in MI5 should have "joined the dots" as intelligence about Abedi came in over a six-year period.
“It does not necessarily follow that having contact with a subject of interest is a cumulative risk,” Witness J said.
"A second-level contact is a contact of a contact. A second-level contact is just that and I am not sure that, to me, that indicates a cumulative risk developing.
"We have to make very fine judgments about whether someone meets the threshold of investigation. It cannot be just on contact; it has to be more than that.”
Abedi’s file as a “subject of interest” was closed after five months in July 2014 based on a “lack of engagement” with extremists.
His name hit a "priority indicator" during a separate exercise as falling within a small number of former subjects of interest who merited further consideration.
A meeting to consider the results was scheduled for May 31, 2017, nine days after the bombing.
Abedi blew himself up with a home-made bomb packed with shrapnel, murdering 22 innocent bystanders and wounding hundreds of other people in the foyer at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.
His brother Hashem was handed a 55-year prison sentence in August last year for his part in the atrocity.
The families of the Manchester Arena victims watched from the public gallery during the inquiry, some shaking their heads.
The hearing continues.