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Manchester suicide bomber spoke with brother 15 minutes before attack

Police have named 22-year-old Salman Abedi, a British national of Libyan descent, as the man who carried out the deadliest terror attack to hit the UK in 12 years during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester on May 20, 2017. Credit: Facebook

MANCHESTER, England — British authorities are trying to contain the network they believe is behind the Manchester attack as it emerged that the suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, reportedly spoke to his brother in Libya just 15 minutes before he detonated his explosives.

“We are following up on the network, rolling it up, trying to contain it. As you’ve seen from the number of arrests, we are on the right track to try to contain it,” UK Security Minister Ben Wallace told CNN in Manchester on Friday. “In the end you get to the bottom of a network.”

Investigators continue to work around the clock to track down associates of Abedi, a 22-year-old Briton of Libyan descent, amid fears he is part of a network plotting further mayhem.

His younger brother, Hashim Ramadan Abu Qassem al-Abedi — detained in Libya in the aftermath of the bombing — knew of his brother’s movements and about the plot, Ahmed Ben Salem, spokesman for the Special Deterrence Force in Tripoli, told the private broadcaster Libya’s Channel on Thursday night.

The brothers spoke on the phone just minutes before the attack, Ben Salem said, but Hashim told his Libyan questioners that he did not know details about where and when the blast would be.

Monday’s attack on concertgoers leaving an Ariana Grande show at Manchester Arena killed 22 people, many of them children, and injured dozens more.

The Special Deterrence Force in Tripoli, a militia nominally under the control of Libya’s interior ministry, arrested Hashim al-Abedi a day later on suspicion of links to ISIS. The militia also arrested the brothers’ father, Ramadan al-Abedi.

Earlier this week the militia said Hashim had admitted — under interrogation — that he and Salman were members of ISIS. It also said Hashim was in Manchester during the planning for the attack and that he had been aware of the plot.

Salman Abedi entered Libya on April 19 and left on May 17, telling his family that he was going to Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah pilgrimage, Ben Salem told Libya’s Channel. It was a deception, and only his brother Hashim knew that Salman actually returned to the UK, according to Ben Salem.

Asked if there was any indication Salman Abedi had received training in Libya or planned an attack inside Libya, Ben Salem said, “I don’t think so.” Based on what the bomber’s brother has told the militia, “everything was prepared in Manchester” since the end of 2016, he said.

US officials told CNN this week that it is likely Salman Abedi received some ISIS training by traveling to Syria in the months before the bombing, according to information gathered in the preliminary investigation.

Police raids

As police raids continued Friday, specially trained firearms officers were being assigned patrol duty on trains for the first time in Britain. The UK threat level is at its highest level, meaning another attack may be imminent.

So far 10 people have been arrested at addresses in Manchester, Wigan and Nuneaton, all in England. Eight remain in custody and searches continue at a number of addresses.

British authorities have stopped and disrupted five plots since March 22, when a terror attack outside Parliament in London left five people dead, said Wallace, the Security Minister. “There are over 400 investigations currently ongoing by the security services and police into terrorist planning or people thinking about terrorist planning.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May was to lead discussions on counterterrorism with other leaders at a G7 summit in Italy on Friday.

May and US President Donald Trump “noted that there had been strong agreement in discussions so far that the G7 should do more collectively on counter terrorism,” Downing Street said in a statement.

May and French President Emmanuel Macron also discussed stronger action on online extremism, Downing Street tweeted.

Corbyn: War on terror ‘not working’

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, the official opposition to the British government, drew a link between UK foreign policy and terror attacks as the main political parties resumed general election campaigning Friday, following the Manchester attack.

Saying the war on terror “is simply not working,” Corbyn urged national unity but also said the government must ensure “that our foreign policy reduces rather than increases the threat to this country.”

Corbyn, who has a long record of voting against UK military intervention overseas, said a Labour government would “change what we do abroad” if elected, while acknowledging that no government can prevent every attack and that terrorism has many causes.

“Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars we have been involved in or supported and and fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home,” he said.

“That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children,” he said. “But an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people, that fights rather than fuels terrorism.”

But Wallace told the BBC the timing of Corbyn’s remarks was “appalling” and that terrorists should not be allowed to think anything justifies their actions.

“We have to be unequivocal, that no amount of excuses, no amount of twisted reasoning about a foreign policy here, a foreign policy there, can be an excuse. The reality is, these people hate our values,” he said.

Row over US leaks

May’s discussion with G7 leaders Friday, including Trump, comes on the heels of a spat with the United States over the leaking of intelligence to US media of details around the Manchester bombing investigation.

The leaks culminated in the New York Times publishing crime scene photos. Britain responded Thursday by temporarily halting intelligence sharing on the investigation with the United States.

Amid efforts to soothe jangled nerves, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in London Friday on his first official visit to Britain, meeting with his UK counterpart Boris Johnson and signing a book of condolence for the Manchester victims.

Tillerson said the United States took full responsibility for the leaks, adding that the “special relationship that exists between our two countries will certainly withstand this particular unfortunate event.”

CNN’s Hala Gorani reported from Manchester and Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported from London. CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh, Mariano Castillo, James Gray, Richard Allen Greene, Sarah Chiplin and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.