Max Blumenthal, Senior Editor for Alternet’s Grayzone Project, says the Manchester bombing’s ties to NATO intervention in Libya exemplify how Western policies overseas can help lead to attacks at home
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. After meeting in Brussels last week, NATO members agreed to join the US-led alliance against the Islamic State. J. STOLTENBERG: We will agree on an action plan on NATO’s role on stepping up our efforts in the fight against terrorism and we will agree on national plans, making sure that we keep up the momentum on burden-sharing, investing in our defense. AARON MATE: The announcement follows last week’s suicide bombing at a concert in Manchester, England. As NATO pledges to fight terrorism, now a picture emerges that ties its actions to that Manchester attack. The bomber, Salman Abedi, has a past deeply intertwined with NATO’s 2011 bombing of Libya. Joining me is Max Blumenthal, Senior Editor for AlterNet’s Grayzone Project. His latest piece is called The Manchester Bombing is Blowback from the West’s Disastrous Interventions and Covert Proxy Wars. Max, your piece focuses on an angle of this bombing that’s gotten a little bit of attention. You go pretty in-depth. How is the Manchester bombing blowback from NATO’s actions? MAX BLUMENTHAL: Most clearly, Salman Abedi and his younger brother, Hashim, were members of ISIS and its local affiliate in Libya. There was no ISIS in Libya before Gaddafi’s removal. In fact, according to a secret US cable in 2008, even the US Embassy in Libya found him to be a partner against groups like this, and someone who was directly confronting in the words of this cable, “Saudi-backed Wahhabi ideology”. That cable was written by J. Christopher Stevens, who was later killed in the Benghazi attack by another jihadist group that sprouted off after Gaddafi’s killing and the destruction of his government. That group is Ansar al-Sharia. These groups have filled the void left by NATO’s disastrous intervention, but beyond that, we have the deep ties that go back well before Gaddafi’s assassination between British intelligence, also the US intelligence, French intelligence, but particularly British intelligence, with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was a collection of Afghan war veterans. They had fought in the anti-Soviet jihad that was backed by the CIA. This was the baby, the brain child of the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, who wanted to draw the Soviets into the Afghan trap by [up-arming 02:52] the mujahideen. It led to what the CIA and other intelligence agencies have called a disposal problem, where basically hard core Islamists and jihadists go to the Afghan battlefield, fight alongside CIA-trained Afghan mujahideen, take their weapons, get the training, and then they go back to the countries they’re from and they go abroad to continue to wage jihad. This was the beginning of international jihadism the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group formed. One of the ways that the British MI5, MI6 handled its disposal problem was to work hand-in-glove with the Libyan exile community around Manchester, for example, and the men who had participated in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group or sought to participate in it. They used the MI5, used the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in 1996 to attempt to assassinate Gaddafi. Libyan state TV in 1998 showed a failed grenade attack on Gaddafi. That was probably the result of this. A 2000 cable that was an MI5 cable was leaked online reported by The Guardian that showed that British intelligence had full knowledge of this assassination plot by the LIFG. Now eight years later, the UK classifies the LIFG as a terrorist group because it was deeply intertwined with the international network of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. A year later, the US does the same. Amazing. They finally recognized after 9/11 that this group that they’ve been working with is actually a threat to national security. They were working with it, of course, in the interest of empire, putting their own citizens’ security at risk. Six years later, the Arab Spring begins, an insurgency begins against Gaddafi. Gaddafi substantially rolls back the insurgency everywhere except Benghazi, and NATO intervenes. They intervene not only by air, but by working with Qatar and the Qatari Royal Family to arm the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. From Manchester, the MI5 operates a ratline … This was very well-documented in Middle East Eye, I ran an article about it, ironically a Qatari-backed outlet … and found even people in Manchester who had been put under house arrest for alleged ties to extremists were given free movement to return to Libya. According to The New York Times, in a piece that didn’t even mention the LIFG, but people from Manchester recorded, saying, “Even drug dealers were allowed to go and fight in Manchester.” Basically, the MI5 was using this group. At one point they’ll classify it as a terrorist group, then they’ll turn on the attack when they decide they want to take out Gaddafi in 2011. AARON MATE: Yeah, Max. Let me actually read to you from that Middle East Eye article. This was what they say: “One British citizen with a Libyan background who was placed on a control order, effectively house arrest, said he was shocked that he was able to travel to Libya in 2011, shortly after his control order was lifted. ‘I was allowed to go, no questions asked.’” MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right. One of the people who was allowed to go to Libya was Ramadan Abedi, who’s still there. He is the father of Salman Abedi. Now The London Telegraph reported that a neighbor of the Abedi family was one of the main bomb makers within the LIFG, who later founded an offshoot that is directly affiliated now without al-Qaeda. The bomb that Salman Abedi detonated in the Ariana Grande concert wasn’t some cheap bomb that you’d find on The Anarchist Cookbook. The explosive impact of this bomb was enough to kill 22 people. The MI5 is in a state of chaos as they seek to break the network that was behind Salman Abedi. This network includes people in Libya. His younger brother’s been arrested, but it also includes the ISIS affiliate in Libya. It also includes rebel groups in Syria. Apparently, Abedi had gone to Syria weeks before his attack. That is where he supposedly was radicalized. I don’t know if that’s the case, because he’d been making noises about committing a suicide bombing in Manchester for years, and local residents, his Muslim neighbors, had reported him. They were deeply disturbed by this. What happened in Syria and what happened in Libya is that that’s where he went to gain the training he needed to put this bomb together. These areas where the West is fueling proxy wars, Qatar continues to back these Islamist malicious in Libya. They’re backing Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and the west is continuing to pump arms into Syria. That’s where figures like Abedi go to get trained and they come back. This is another aspect of blowback. Finally, I raise the question in my article: what did the MI5 know and when did they know it? As I mentioned a minute ago, Abedi’s neighbors had reported him to counter-terror hotline, and the MI5 and the local authorities did nothing, even as Manchester was planning publicly for a catastrophic attack just like the kind he’d caused. Was it possible that Abedi was being groomed as an informant just as the MI5 had attempted to groom Mohammed Emwazi, who later turned up in Eastern Syria beheading James Foley, as the decapitator known as Jihadi John? That is a question for Theresa May, who is running for re-election, who was the home secretary in 2011, when the MI5 reestablished its ratline with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. She would have been home secretary when Abedi was reported for threatening suicide bombings in Manchester. These questions are not being raised loudly enough by the British press. Corbyn has hinted at this kind of relationship, but it needs to be made clear. The MI5 is initiating a self-investigation, which will be probably an opaque cover-up, an exercise in futility. What’s needed is a public inquiry. AARON MATE: Max, since you bring up Corbyn, let me play for you a clip of his comments that caused a stir last week, when he talked about the connection between foreign intervention and foreign entanglement in the Middle East and terror attacks at home. Here he is. JEREMY CORBYN: Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed out the connections between wars that we’ve been involved in or supported and fought in in other countries such as Libya and terrorism here at home. Protecting this country requires us to be both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people, we must be honest about what threatens our security. AARON MATE: Max, it’s pretty striking and I think perhaps unprecedented to hear the leader of a major political party and a candidate for the British leadership speak in such terms. Accordingly, his comments have not been well-received by the British establishment. MAX BLUMENTHAL: Nothing he says … Every time he coughs, the British establishment gets upset. I’ve never seen a figure of national stature in the UK get pilloried so hard. I mean Jeremy Corbyn has been the subject of so many fake scandals that, in many cases, his become immune to these smears. The British public is so turned off by the establishment that’s now put their national security at risk that they’re willing to give him a chance. He’s surging in the polls. Jeremy Corbyn, who the Labor Establishment and the Blairites had said could never win, is surging in the polls. He’s pulled even with Theresa May among British women. He could potentially, through the progressive alliance with Sinn Fein and the Scottish National Party and other parties, Corbyn’s wing of labor could hold the majority in parliament if he continues to surge. That is partly the result of this remarkable message that he delivered, linking the West’s so-called war on terror to the insecurity of its own citizens. We have yet to hear this from any US politician. There’s no one like him in the Democratic Party, not Bernie Sanders and not even Jill Stein. We didn’t hear anything like that from her. What needs to be made clear also is that the war on terror has driven the rise of the far-right. Regime change wars have driven the far-right in Europe. Proxy wars like the one the West and its Gulf allies in Syria are driving the far-right in Europe and the United States by creating refugee crises. Gaddafi, in 2011, warned explicitly that not only would Libya be transformed, in his words, into an “al-Qaeda emirate”, but a refugee crisis would fall on Europe’s shores, that he was holding the migrant wave back from Sub-Saharan Africa, where the West has simply pilloried these populations and they’re forced to head north. What happened? All of his darkest prophecies were fulfilled. Today Libya is a failed state. After Gaddafi’s fortunes and the state coffers were plundered by western countries, especially France, we now see open air slave markets in Libyan cities, where African migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa are bought and sold, according to the United Nations. According to testimony that UNICEF has gathered, women from Sub-Saharan Africa are being raped and starved, in their words, “in living hell holes” in Libya. This is the legacy of the NATO intervention, which pretty much everyone within the liberal establishment in Washington and London supported wholeheartedly. One of the few people who did not support that was Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy Corbyn has stood up against every catastrophic intervention. That’s why he’s gone from the back benches of parliament to a contender for 10 Downing Street. We need to wonder when a figure like that will arise in the US. AARON MATE: Max, finally, I wonder if you can comment on what I think is a pretty striking contrast. On the one hand, you’re laying out the factors behind radicalization and behind all these terrible developments that are linked directly to western policies overseas, but yet whenever a terrorist attack like that happens, the focus is always on the Muslim community inside those countries where it happened, or on refugees coming from abroad, the extensive commentary about how people are radicalized, and it’s focused on the mosques. You’re saying it’s actually rooted in western policies. Can you talk about that contrast between the focus on Muslim communities versus western policies overseas? MAX BLUMENTHAL: It’s a little bit of everything. I mean we can’t deny the role of Wahhabi ideology that’s projected out of Saudi Arabia and that they are exporting it across the world. This can’t be denied. It can’t be denied that Salman Abedi, like, for example, the Kouachi brothers in France, who were orphans of the French State, bear the legacy of colonialism. We can’t deny that he was deeply alienated, even as a third generation Libyan, and was drawn into a nihilistic death cult known as ISIS as a way of playing out psychological issues that he probably would not have experienced had his own country been systematically destroyed. Now this is the case for many refugees, and almost none of them play out their psychological anxiety in a violent way, but we have to look at empire as well. That’s been my focus, and it’s something that mainstream media, almost our entire political class is terrified to discuss. Even the idea that we have imperial tendencies in this country or the West is almost verboten. That makes it impossible to put this attack in context, and it drives the far-right because it leads right-wing demagogues to divert the blame for where it should lie and put it on to the Muslim community as a whole in Manchester, which had actually rejected Salman Abedi and his nihilism. British people didn’t understand why there is a refugee crisis from Syria. You look at the covers of the British tabloids and it’s fear and loathing of migrants and refugees every day, day-after-day, and no discussion of where they’re coming from. They’re coming from Libya, they’re coming from Syria, they’re coming from countries that the UK government and the MI5 and MI6 have explicitly participated in destroying. Brexit succeeded because of the fear and loathing of refugees. 80% of those who voted for Brexit voted on the immigration issue, not on the economy. It was UKIP, the far-right party of Nigel Forage, not the Conservative Party that drove the Brexit campaign. If you’re unable to put into context the refugee crisis, you’re unable to place the blame where it should lie. The blame should be on interventionists. The interventionists caused this crisis. That’s why, in the US, there’s the Anti-War Movement. It is a shadow of its former self in Iraq. People are simply unable to even look at the consequences of intervention. The reason that I wrote this article is just to provide the missing context. I think it’s the kind of context that could do deep damage to Theresa May and swing the British election, if the British press were willing to talk about it more honestly. AARON MATE: Max Blumenthal, we thank you for joining us and for providing that context. Max Blumenthal is a Senior Editor at AlterNet’s Grayzone Project. His latest piece, The Manchester Bombing is Blowback from the West’s Disastrous Interventions and Covert Proxy Wars. Max, thank you. MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me. AARON MATE: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.