Back in May 2017, the Manchester terror attack shocked Britain and the international community. This was a cowardly atrocity committed against innocent civilians, and among the victims were several children. The fact that children were among the dead only served to heighten the sense of outrage at the perpetrator(s) of this bombing, and increased the need for people to come together to cope with the traumatic consequences. The grief-stricken survivors, and the wider public, were looking for answers as to why such an attack occurred.
People afflicted with grief after such an appalling event rally around to achieve a sense of purpose and closure. Vigils were held, and the politicians began to offer reasons for why such a terrorist bombing occurred, and prescriptions on how to stop them from happening again. Jeremy Corbyn, the British Prime Minister-in-waiting, offered an explanation that was powerful, novel and correct – the war on terror is not working, and British wars overseas cause blowback such as the Manchester attack. You may read his entire speech here.
Noting that the nation was united in shock and anger at this attack, Corbyn avoided the usual machismo, threatening language and blood-curdling calls for increased warfare that has become stock standard for Western politicians. In the midst of the 2017 UK election campaign, Corbyn offered the unadulterated truth – bombing countries in the Middle East, and participating in wars of aggression overseas only adds fuel to an existing fire.
He stated that this does not excuse or minimise the guilt of the perpetrator(s). Explanation of causative factors is not justification or an exercise in guilt minimisation. Corbyn’s speech was novel only because no senior politicians in the imperialist countries have the intelligence – or the courage – to plainly admit the truth.
Indeed, the link between overseas wars and terrorism is known to the public, and has been known to senior figures in the military and intelligence apparatus for years. Since 2003, the UK government has known that attacks such as the one at Manchester were likely, and they would be a direct consequence of British support for imperial regime-change wars in Iraq and Syria. The Manchester attacker, Salman al-Abedi, got his start as a foot-soldier participating in the Western-backed effort to topple the former Libyan government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
The large community of Libyan exiles in Manchester – anti-Gaddafi exiles – were strident supporters of the British government’s decision to overthrow the former Libyan regime. The Mancunian exiles provided the on-the-ground recruits for Libyan militias and organisations fighting in the 2011 Libyan war. John Wight, commentator and journalist writing for Russia Today, wrote that with the Manchester bombing, the role of Britain in stoking and encouraging the carnage in Libya has been brought into the light for examination.
Wight examined the strong connections between the British intelligence community, and the Libyan Manchester exiles. The anti-Gaddafi effort would require the active participation of Libyans dedicated to the overthrow of the former Libyan socialist regime. The London government provided the necessary financial, travel and military services needed to ferry people over to the Libyan nation in order to fight in that particular regime-change war.
Wight notes that:
Even more damning, in the wake of the Manchester terrorist attack, are new revelations exposing the existence of a nefarious relationship between Britain’s security services and anti-Gaddafi militants of Islamist persuasion living in the UK, who were allowed to travel from the UK to Libya to join their cohorts in the campaign to topple the government in 2011. Among those militants was Ramadan Abedi, father of Salman Abedi, the perpetrator of the aforesaid Manchester terrorist atrocity, which killed 22 and injured 159, many of them children, at a pop concert in the city.
Back in May 2017, Middle East Eye reported that the British government maintained an ‘’open door” policy with regard to British Libyans. What does that mean? The British government willingly allowed British Libyans to travel to their country of origin without any examination or scrutiny of their motives or membership in proscribed terrorist organisations. The militants of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) – officially listed as a terrorist organisation by the UK government – were permitted to travel to Libya to participate in the British-supported regime-change war in 2011. One of those persons was Salman al-Abedi.
In this regard, it is interesting to note that the Home Secretary at the time of this “open door” policy was current Prime Minister Theresa May. This raises serious questions regarding what the government knew about the LIFG, the impact of participating in warfare on the returning British Libyans, and the extent of ideological radicalisation among them. The propensities of the LIFG could not have been unknown to British authorities. After all, the LIFG was banned as a terrorist organisation in the wake of the “war on terror”.
John Pilger, veteran journalist and foreign correspondent, wrote in an article about this issue that:
The overthrow of Gaddafi, who controlled Africa’s largest oil reserves, had been long been planned in Washington and London. According to French intelligence, the LIFG made several assassination attempts on Gaddafi in the 1990s – bankrolled by British intelligence. In March 2011, France, Britain and the U.S. seized the opportunity of a “humanitarian intervention” and attacked Libya. They were joined by NATO under cover of a United Nations resolution to “protect civilians.”
The war-torn chaos and fragmented anarchy of the Libyan state after the 2011 war demolishes the lie that the Western-backed war for regime change in Libya was motivated by humanitarian considerations or dedication to Lockean democratic ideals. The British government’s efforts in Libya are by no means an aberration, nor are dubious methods adopted unusual. Britain has a longstanding alliance of convenience with the most fundamentalist strand of political Islam, namely the House of Saud and its Wahhabist philosophy. Saudi Arabia is the principal ally of the British state in the region, but Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the other petro-monarchies are no less important to Britain.
Britain’s Libyan adventure is part and parcel of the imperialist state’s long history of secret foreign interventions. Britain’s empire ended a long time ago, but its role as an imperialist garrison-state did not. Ian Cobain, writing in a long article called “Britain’s Secret Wars”, states that the British have deployed their troops to foreign countries at least since the end of World War One.
Cobain, examining Britain’s imperial wars, notes that:
In fact, between 1918 and 1939, British forces were fighting in Iraq, Sudan, Ireland, Palestine and Aden. In the years after the second world war, British servicemen were fighting in Eritrea, Palestine, French Indochina, Dutch East Indies, Malaya, Egypt, China and Oman. Between 1949 and 1970, the British initiated 34 foreign military interventions. Later came the Falklands, Iraq – four times – Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Libya and, of course, Operation Banner, the British army’s 38-year deployment to Northern Ireland.
We will have more to say about Britain’s secret imperialist wars in the next article – stay tuned. For now, suffice it to say that not only should this failed “war on terror” end as Corbyn suggested, but the deceitful and duplicitous British foreign policy should be terminated. Propping up tyrannies that trample human rights and shackle popular aspirations in order to gain commercial and financial advantage for British corporations is a longstanding practice that must be reversed.