Is There a Price in Blood for British Foreign Policy?

There are powerful reasons to regard both the 7/7 bombings and the 2017 Manchester Arena atrocity as different versions of blowback, writes Peter Oborne. 

Sept. 15, 2011: From left: French President Nicholas Sarkozy, National Transition Council Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron in Benghazi, Libya, after addressing a crowd in Liberty Square. (No. 10 Downing)

By Peter Oborne
Declassified UK

Before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 a number of people —  including then MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller — warned it would make the streets of Britain more dangerous.

These warnings were ignored by Prime Minister Tony Blair. Even when MI5’s prophecy was proven tragically accurate with the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, Blair (who did not pass it on to the British people) continued to deny the link with British foreign policy. 

Yet the 7/7 bombers themselves had made the connection explicit in videotaped statements that were released posthumously.

Blair refused to call an independent inquiry, calling it a “ludicrous diversion”.

When David Cameron became prime minister in 2010, he commissioned Lady Justice Hallett to hold a coroner’s inquest. She focused on the emergency response and the role of domestic counter-terrorism, ignoring the foreign policy dimension.

Adam Stacey trapped in a tube train between King’s Cross and Russell Square, London, during the July 7, 2005, bombings. (Eliot Ward, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

It is fair to say that after 7/7 the British state chose not to investigate the link between foreign adventurism in Afghanistan and Iraq and terrorism at home. 

On May 22, 2017, Salman Abedi walked into a pop concert at the Manchester Arena and detonated a home-made bomb, killing 23 people (including himself) and injuring more than 1,000 others. This was the worst terrorist atrocity since 7/7 and, as with that attack, the link to British foreign policy is compelling. 

Abedi came from a family of Libyan exiles. Significantly, his father Ramadan was a supporter of the Al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), whose militants were among those supported by Nato when it moved against Gaddafi in the 2011 Libya war.

In 2011 Salman Abedi probably fought alongside his father with Islamist militias. Thereafter Salman spent a great deal of time in Libya, where he may have learnt the techniques he used to such deadly effect at the Manchester Arena.

[Related: Why Americans Were Never Told Why They Were Attacked]

Grave Question

The great mystery is whether Sir John Saunders, the chair of the public inquiry, will answer the grave question which was evaded after 7/7: did innocent citizens pay a blood price for British foreign policy? Or to put it another way: was the British state a part of the apparatus of terror which killed 22 innocent people in Manchester?

Thus far this question has been obscured or ignored. There’s been a lively media campaign to demonize the blameless local mosque where Salman Abedi sometimes worshipped, while Sir John Saunders devoted several months to examining the peripheral security at the Manchester Arena. 

Though he could hardly avoid the subject altogether, Sir John has shown less interest in the domestic impact of British foreign policy. 

Hence the importance of this week’s unique investigation by Declassified UK.

Sifting through evidence presented to the inquiry, while drawing on material elsewhere, Declassified has painted by far the most detailed picture yet of the Manchester bomber: his early life as part of the small Manchester community of Libyan exiles; his shambolic early career; his drift into minor crime and above all his Libyan connections.

As a result, it is fair to say that far more is now known about the personal history, ideological motivation and wider connections of Salman Abedi than any other British suicide bomber. 

“The Manchester bomber and his closest family” spells out the Declassified investigation, “were part of Islamist militia forces covertly supported by the British military and Nato in the Libyan war of 2011.”

Or to quote Pete Weatherby, one of the lawyers for the bombing victims, in testimony to the inquiry, “It is highly likely that [Salman Abedi] had a baptism of violence by exposure to the 2011 uprising.”

Traveled Freely

Manchester Arena entrance, December 2017. (N Chadwick, cc-by-sa/2.0)

Declassified highlights the astonishing fact that the British authorities allowed Salman Abedi to travel freely to and from Libya in the years running up to the Manchester atrocity. At no point was Abedi stopped and questioned on his way in or out of Britain. 

Yet he was in Libya during key periods of 2014, when Islamic State (IS) emerged as a potent force in the country and spent much of the summer of 2016 there too, at a time when IS was running training camps and planning attacks on Europe.

This makes it bewildering that Sir John Saunders failed to call either the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) or Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)  to his inquiry for questioning. 

There have been repeated reports that MI6 may have encouraged Libyan radicals from Manchester to join the military campaign against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Why not ask them? 

Later on, MI6 – and GCHQ – surely took an interest in the coming and goings of the Abedis as terror groups competed for control of post-revolutionary Libya. Sir John Saunders didn’t think this avenue was worth exploring either.

To be fair, Sir John did call an MI5 officer — known to the court as “Witness J” — who turned out to be a bland corporate tool with no operational knowledge of the Libya file. 

Lawyers for the families asked the right questions. Was Ramadan Abedi connected to the LIFG? Witness J refused to say. What about Salman Abedi’s astonishing rescue by the British navy in 2014? No answer. 

Lone Wolves?

MI5 told the inquiry Salman Abedi and his brother Hashem, who is already serving a 55-year jail sentence for his role as an accomplice, were the only people involved in the plot. 

This paints them as “lone wolves” who radicalized themselves: Pete Weatherby has written that this “is inconsistent with the evidence.” 

One can understand the institutional justification for such a position: it absolves MI5 of responsibility. 

But the bombing took place during the politically sensitive time of a British general election, and feels like part of a pattern of Islamic State-planned atrocities then causing carnage across Europe. 

It was carried out by someone who had recently returned from Libya where he had ample opportunity to spend time with Islamic State. One likes to think MI5 officers possess a lively intelligence. If true, it’s hard to believe they really think the Abedis were acting on their own. 

If that is their judgement they need to explain why.

There are powerful reasons to regard both the 7/7 bombings and the Manchester Arena atrocity as different versions of blowback. The 7/7 bombers never had dealings with the British state. Put crudely, they were acting out of revenge for the Iraq invasion. 

The Abedi family is more complicated. The suspicion is that they were radicalized courtesy of the British state, as agents of a British foreign policy intervention which went horribly wrong both abroad and at home. 

Sir John Saunders might care to reflect as he writes his report that his job is not to salvage reputations. It’s to learn the correct lessons so that similar tragedies can be avoided in future.

The British government deliberately ignored the hard lessons from 7/7. We need to learn the right lessons from the Manchester Arena.

Peter Oborne is a columnist for Middle East Eye. His new book – The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarismwill be published by Simon & Schuster.

This article is from Declassified UK.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

14 comments for “Is There a Price in Blood for British Foreign Policy?

  1. BorisPosturing
    July 4, 2022 at 12:04

    “Is There a Price in Blood for British Foreign Policy?

    There always has been, hence the necessity of myth creation, even when the opponents were using spears and the “British” were using gattling guns and “bibles”.

  2. Simon
    July 3, 2022 at 11:11

    “Is There a Price in Blood for British Foreign Policy?”

    Its funny reading that in America, as anyone who knows British history from an American point of view would answer this with ‘of course’. Or perhaps answer it with, ‘No $#I^^ Sherlock!’

    For the last several centuries, anyone who’s had the misfortune to meet the British, would have the same answer. In the America of people like Jefferson, Washington, Franklin or even into the era of Lincoln, when the Brits were supporting slavery in the Confederacy for ole King Cotton, they would have had no trouble answering this question.

    For instance, Mr. Thomas Jefferson wrote, in the famous letter that refers to the “Tree of Liberty” requiring frequent waterings ….

    “Wonderful is the effect of impudent and persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, and what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusets? And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it’s motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20. years without such a rebellion.” –hxxps://

    Why, Mr. Jefferson almost calls the British ‘The Empire of Lies.’ :)
    But I don’t think there would be any doubt in Mr. Jefferson’s mind that British Foreign Policy leaves a bill due in blood. And this letter was even written before the Brits began to kidnap Americans off ships as sea to ‘impress’ them into the long British war against “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’

    Does British Foreign Policy have a price in blood?
    An American band known as the Talking Heads provided the answer … “Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.”

  3. July 2, 2022 at 20:11

    To every action there is always a reaction. This is a simple fundamental law that politicians haven’t learned or, because of sheer stupidity, have chosen to ignore.

    • Henry Smith
      July 3, 2022 at 09:26

      The politicians never learn because primarily the blowback is directed at innocent members of the public. If the blowback was to affect directly the politicians that make the decisions then suddenly you would see change. Dead civilians have no importance to decision makers, they are just numbers and opportunities for more corrupt political decisions.

    • July 3, 2022 at 18:19

      They ignore because the cost in $$ and lives is borne by the poor and middle class.

    • VJCB
      July 4, 2022 at 11:27

      ..ignore.. or on the other hand.. hope for.

  4. Joseph Tillotson
    July 2, 2022 at 12:36

    I sometimes ruminate on an image of members of the House of Lords in an London club discussing their next war to subdue a rival nation as in WW1. New nation Germany was leaping ahead of England which stirred the war mongering Brits to gather its Allies to smash Germany. Likewise Churchill was maneuvered into power and was tasked by the secret Focus group to do it again which he grimly carried out. Now little England a Mighty Mouse still sees itself as a world power and is recklessly pursuing grandiose ventures to spread death and destruction.

  5. evelync
    July 2, 2022 at 11:54

    One must ask “WHY?”

    Why are these “masters of the world” so dumb, so obtuse, so unaware that they refuse to acknowledge the inevitable blowback from their state authorized violence?

    One reason that comes to mind, may be they are trained at their elite schools in Britain and the U.S. to debate gladiator style to win at all costs where the loser is generally a deeper truth.
    A great movie to see on this with Denzel Washington and the great Forest Whitaker is:

    Or to simply watch elite British school debates….it’s an eye opener.
    Mindless verbal oneupmanship. Also on display at Prime Minister’s questions.
    Winning is the goal, not the truth about the impact of policy on their citizens or world peace.

    Another perhaps is that they WANT to foment violence because it’s a fuse to trigger and “excuse” their for profit wars; their AngloSaxon supremacy thinking seems to always target brown and black and other non AngloSaxon countries around the world.

    On another note, perhaps related, to this dishonest exercise of power, from a recent article that I can no longer find is about how Attorney General Garland earned his stripes. The author’s point was that Garland climbed the ladder within the Democratic Party by shaping the trial after the Oklahoma City bombing.
    I remember hearing Timothy McVeigh, a U.S. veteran express his dismay over the Waco tragedy where tanks entered the compound under Clinton:

    And Garland apparently visited Hillary Clinton before heading to Oklahoma City:

    Was that trial shaped to tamp down the role that WACO may have played in this blowback if that indeed played a role?

    questions, questions, questions

    Thanks for this article because we need to keep asking to challenge the elite and hold them accountable for the violent state of the world on their watch.

  6. Stephen Keilty
    July 2, 2022 at 11:00

    There is no-one more savage on this planet than the Anglo-Reich.

    • evelync
      July 3, 2022 at 10:48

      RE: your “Anglo-Reich” designation, Stephen Keilty, reminds me of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.

      Do you have any articles on this subject?
      The deep hatred for Vladimir Putin by the NEOCONS and G7 seem to me related to an Anglo-Reich sentiment…..
      Is it a Slavophobia or a Russophobia? (Or is it simply that Russia insists on protecting their sovereignty, resisting the exploitation of the West, or perhaps some convenient alignment of both “agendas”?)

      Why has Russia become the latest bogeyman whose red line against border encroachment by NATO was ignored, even stroked to provoke what Russia calls their “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine?

      During the 2/21/22 UNSC meeting, Russia once again asked for the Minsk2 to be signed and their border security needs addressed.
      Anthony Blinken blatantly ignored those concerns expressed by Vassily Nebenzia, Security Council President and Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, when Blinken’s turn to speak came up, instead reading from a prepared speech that was tone deaf in its failure to address these decades long repeated concerns.

      We could have avoided this conflict which was surely accelerated by our 2014 coup that Robert Parry covered here so well on CN.
      The history since our 1990 promise that We(NATO) would not move 1″ East and violated by Clinton in 1997, is now over 30 years long.

      And one more thing – are our Anglo-Reich (NEOCONS) consciously aware that their actions produce blowback and is that part of their agenda too?

  7. Henry Smith
    July 2, 2022 at 08:21

    And 9/11 was also blowback, as was the downing of Pan Am 103. You reap what you sow …
    Will the war pigs learn ?, doubtful.

    • SomeoneLeftTheCakeOutInTheRain
      July 3, 2022 at 05:45

      ” You reap what you sow”

      Not statistically, you tend to reap what others sow – the “advantages” and the “blowbacks”.

      The sowers understand that “it wasn’t me it was my sister” is not an option, but a useful illusion of reapers to continue their getting with the team as spectators hollering “U.S.A, U.S.A”.

    • July 3, 2022 at 14:11

      Pan Am 103 was a result of shooting down Iran Air 655 but in the early 90s that started being in the news again, followed by a $100m+ payment in February 1996, and finally TWA flight 800, after which everybody agreed that all accounts were settled.

    • Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
      July 3, 2022 at 19:30

      “WAR PIGS” ? I couldn’t agree more with your rubric. But would the British piglets learn to resist the temptation to brainlessly slurp up at the shitty NEOCON trough anytime soon ?

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