In an attempt to explain why British intelligence failed to prevent the deadly bombing of Manchester Arena during an Ariana Grande performance last Monday, the U.K. Security Minister has offered some truly alarming statistics.
Security Minister Ben Wallace told The Australian this week that a British intelligence database contains a list of 23,000 potential jihadists currently living in the U.K. "The figures reveal the scale of the challenge from terrorism in the 21st century, " said Wallace of the number of potential terrorists. "Never has it been more important to invest in intelligence-led policing."
That sobering figure was made even more troubling when Wallace revealed the severe limitations of MI5's investigative capacity. Wallace said that MI5 only has the capability of investigating some 3,000 individuals at any given time, leaving 20,000 potential threats largely unmonitored. The Australian reports:
MI5’s capacity to investigate is limited to about 3,000 individuals at any one time. People are added to and removed from the group of “live” suspects depending on assessments of who poses the greatest risk.
When an investigation is closed, the people identified drop into a growing group whose risk is seen as reduced. Sources say that the pool of “former subjects of interest” has swollen to 20,000 during the years of Islamist threat since 2001.
The University of Buckingham's intelligence studies head Anthony Glees responded to Wallace's alarming revelations. "To have 23,000 potential killers in our midst is horrifying." Wallace told The Australian, suggesting that MI5 double its capacity.
Over the weekend, the U.K. downgraded its terror threat level from "critical" (its highest level) to "severe," despite Britain's top counter-terrorism official admitting to "gaps in our understanding" of the Manchester concert attack, which was carried out by radical Islamist Salman Abedi and took the lives of 22 people and injured 59, several of whom are children.
On Saturday, police made two more arrests of suspects they believe were connected to the Manchester attack. Currently, British police are holding 11 men as a result of the ongoing investigation. USA Today reports:
Greater Manchester Police said two men, aged 20 and 22, were detained early Saturday in the northwest England city on suspicion of terrorism offenses. Police used an explosive device to get into a property to make the arrests.
Police say they are now holding 11 men, aged between 18 and 44, in custody and have made major progress in their investigation.
Mark Rowley, Britain’s top counterterrorism police officer, said authorities have dismantled a “large part” of the network around bomber Salman Abedi. But he said there were still “gaps in our understanding” of the plot, as investigators probed Abedi’s potential links to jihadis in Britain, Europe, Libya and the Middle East.
Intelligence analysts signaled a few days after the attack that Abedi may have acted as a "mule" for a bomb maker who provided him with the bomb that killed or injured over 80 people on Monday. "They don't waste bomb makers. The reason we have gone to critical is because he is still out there and the fear is that he will strike again before they get caught," a police told Manchester Evening News. Though the downgrading of the threat level may be a result of having arrested the suspected bomb maker, authorities have not yet provided details of the suspects.
Abedi's older brother was among those arrested by British police last week. Abedi's father (pictured below) and younger brother were arrested in Libya on suspicion of links to ISIS.