Isil propaganda was found on a phone belonging to the Manchester bomber's brother 18 months before the attack, an inquiry has heard, as the victims’ families attack MI5's "obsessive secrecy" in the public investigation into the atrocity.
Manchester magistrates’ court on Monday heard that the security services stopped Ismail Abedi - the brother of Hashem and Salman Abedi, who both plotted the 2017 attack - at an airport on September 3, 2015.
Ismail’s mobile was seized and found to contain “ISIS recruitment videos and literature,” the inquiry heard, but the discovery did not prompt any further investigation into the Abedi brothers.
The revelation came as lawyers representing the families of the bombing’s 22 victims heavily criticised the “veil of secrecy” given to MI5 in the public inquiry.
The intelligence agency has been granted permission to give evidence entirely behind closed doors for “national security,” apart from one public hearing with an anonymous deputy director general of MI5, known only as Witness J.
Pete Weatherby QC, who represents seven of the families, said the structure is “an anathema to open justice and we urge a rethink”.
“What we have grave misgivings about is the obsessive secrecy which surrounds the security services approach to evidence,” Mr Weatherby QC said.
He continued: “The families realise that to prevent a future similar attack requires a responsible approach. However they also think that a veil of secrecy is likely to do the opposite.
“Healthy public authorities are accountable to public scrutiny. Overbearing secrecy does not protect national security. It does the opposite. It will protect failure and prevent progress.
“Justice requires that light is shone into the darkest corners”.
Duncan Atkinson QC, for six of the families, also called for greater transparency, adding: “The families have been the victims of terrorism. The last thing that they would wish to do is to assist terrorists or to put life at risk.”
The inquiry heard how, in a report following the 2017 attack, MI5 redacted the name of convicted terrorist Abdalraouf Abdallauh, who Salman was able to visit in prison in the months leading up to the bombing.
One of Salman’s visits to Abdallauh - whose name was only made public thanks to media reports - coincided with his brother Hashem buying litres of sulphuric acid as a main component for their bomb.
Mr Weatherby QC said MI5’s decision to redact Abdallauh’s name in the report is evidence that “facts will drip out shrouded in anonymity” in the closed hearings.
“The redaction of Abdalraouf Abdallauh’s name from reports and the witness statement is an indication of a lack of transparency by the security services and, frankly, in our submission, calls for a rethink by this inquiry,” he said.
MI5’s closed inquiry sessions will be heard by only the chairman, Sir John Saunders, and the intelligence services’ lawyers. When Sir John publishes his final report, a classified chapter on security service failings will be given to Priti Patel, the Home Secretary.
Mr Weatherby QC cited various press articles, including from The Telegraph, in which important information relating to Salman’s background had been disclosed to the public and the families.
He said the reports show that between 2010 and the bombing MI5 had information linking Salman to a “string” of “dodgy associates”, adding: “The fact that Salman Abedi kept such company did not make him a terrorist. But the families might be forgiven for asking what exactly does one have to do to get the attention of the security services?”
The inquiry continues.