On September 15, 2011, David Cameron triumphantly entered Liberation Square in the Libyan city of Benghazi to milk every last ounce of publicity for Britain’s role in the downfall of President Gaddafi.
In a hubristic speech to cheering Libyans, he told his carefully chosen audience how it was ‘great to be in free Libya. Colonel Gaddafi said he would hunt you down like rats, but you showed the courage of lions’.
Six years later, a very different scene was played out in another city centre square hundreds of miles to the north.
Why on earth was this callous terrorist allowed to come to Britain? Did British intelligence check his motivations and his allegiances?
Once again, there was a large crowd, but this time they stood in silence. They had gathered in Manchester’s Albert Square to pay tribute to those who died in the pop concert bombing which cost 22 lives when Salman Abedi blew himself up among scores of children.
Until recently, there seemed no solid reason to link the awful carnage in Manchester with David Cameron’s vainglorious intervention.
Today, it is possible to discern a direct and irrefutable connection. Thanks to Mail reporter Larisa Brown, the world now knows that the Royal Navy rescued the Manchester killer, then just 19 years old, from Libya three years before the Manchester atrocity occurred and ferried him back to this country.
Of course, hindsight is always a wonderful thing. But vital questions scream to be asked if such an atrocity is to be prevented in the future.
Why on earth was this callous terrorist allowed to come to Britain? Did British intelligence check his motivations and his allegiances? Were investigations made to see whether he had any history of training in Libya with jihadi groups?
Most important of all, why didn’t the Ministry of Defence reveal the Navy’s role in the Abedi story, which, so I reliably understand, has been an open secret in Whitehall for months.
Their failure to come clean is a grotesque insult to the families of the dead in Manchester, who are surely entitled to be told why their loved ones were taken from them in the most brutal fashion.
This sordid business once again shines a pitiless light on the culture of secrecy in Whitehall, where obstructive civil servants routinely treat the public like idiots.
ET TU, BORIS?
Polls now confirm my report last week that Boris Johnson has emerged as leader of the Brexiteer Tories.
So when will he strike at the Prime Minister?
Expect the former foreign secretary to wait until the eve of Tory Conference, when he will set out his own vision of Brexit.
Mr Johnson will not move in for the kill, however, until late autumn.
And only if Theresa May persists with the Chequers deal.
It is only days since we learned that Home Secretary Sajid Javid secretly dispatched two former British citizens — members of Islamic State’s so-called quartet of ‘Beatles’ — into the jurisdiction of the United States and the real possibility of the death penalty, without informing Parliament or the British public.
And it’s only a few months since the Intelligence and Security Committee report into British complicity with torture in the New Labour years exposed a culture of lying and underhand action inside the British Intelligence services and among ministers.
Nor did Tony Blair ever own up to the links between the London bombings of July 2005 which claimed 52 innocent lives and the Iraq war two years earlier which had motivated so many angry young Muslim men to seek revenge on the West. I am afraid that lurking behind this insidious culture of secrecy is an even bigger question, one which has rarely been asked before.
Did the bombing in Manchester Arena last year represent terrorist ‘blowback’ from David Cameron’s intervention in Libya, which was taken against the advice of his senior generals?
For the fall of the Gaddafi regime created a power vacuum in Libya and allowed armed jihadi groups to flourish. Remember that back in 2011, Britain played an important role in the aerial bombing campaign that helped weaken Muammar Gaddafi.
But the terms of the United Nations resolution which authorised the British and French intervention specifically prohibited us from sending in ground troops.
Instead — invoking the old mantra that my enemy’s enemy is my friend — Britain threw its weight behind jihadi fighters who bore an ancient grudge against the Libyan leader.
Among these militant groups was a body called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, known for its links to Al Qaeda. Indeed, in 1996 Britain had secretly supported the LIFG in a bid to assassinate Gaddafi.
So the impression is that groups connected to Al Qaeda were effectively Britain’s ‘boots on the ground’ in the war against Gaddafi. Crucially, Ramadan Abedi, father of the Manchester bomber, was a member of this same Libyan international fighting group. Salman Abedi may have fought with them, too.
Many people will find it frankly incredible that Britain was linked to fighters who had vowed to wage war and destruction against the West. Yet this is something that has happened in a number of foreign conflicts.
In the Eighties, Britain and America formed an alliance with radical jihadis — including Osama bin Laden — in Afghanistan in order to defeat Soviet forces after the communist invasion.
More recently, Britain allied itself with Islamist militias affiliated to Al Qaeda after we chose to take sides against President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war. As we now know, the Manchester bomber Salman Abedi was linked to such a network of fighting jihadis through his father.
My guess is that this week’s news about the role of the Royal Navy in bringing him to this country is the first in a series of revelations to come about the links between the British state and the Manchester bomber.
Last week, a solicitor representing victims of the Manchester Arena bombing remarked that ‘I am sure the security services have not told us the full story. We may need an inquiry to get to the truth’. I agree with him.
Of course, only one man bears the full responsibility for the terrible atrocity which struck Manchester just over a year ago. That is Salman Abedi himself.
But his hideous actions did not come out of a vacuum. We need to get the full truth about the role of the British state in Libya, how Abedi was allowed to return to Britain — and why he was effectively left to his own devices until he carried out his monstrous attack. The families of those who were killed deserve nothing less.
Censorship and the hypocrisy of Google
Internet giant Google is notorious for fostering a culture in which anything goes. You need only to look at some of the horrors that are allowed to fester on its YouTube video subsidiary to see that where there are profits to be made, its morals are entirely elastic.
Now we learn that Google has been in talks with China, where novelists like George Orwell are banned and no mention of the Tiananmen Square atrocity is even allowed (stock image)
Until now, this has been seen as an expression of the group’s free-wheeling libertarian philosophy and its Californian origins. Yet there’s an even bigger driving force behind Google: naked greed. Nothing else can explain the disquieting news that this giant technology firm — which will allow virtually anything online in the West — may accept censorship of its search engine in order to break into the Chinese market.
Back in 2010, Google pulled out of China citing fears about censorship and surveillance. The company’s co-founder Sergey Brin, who was brought up under Soviet rule, expresses his hatred of the ‘forces of totalitarianism’. Since then, the forces of oppression inside China have got far worse. Yet now we learn that Google has been in talks with China, where novelists like George Orwell are banned and no mention of the Tiananmen Square atrocity is even allowed.
The suggestion is that Google will accept censorship in exchange for potentially massive profits. Google claims to follow the philosophy ‘don’t be evil’.
Now it appears to be ready to junk its world view if there’s money in it.