Greater Manchester Police has said it is still working “flat out” following the release of those arrested in connection with last month’s terror attack.
A full statement from Detective Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson describes the bombing of Manchester arena as “premeditated, calculated and vicious”.
Det Chf Supt Jackson has spoken out in relation to the “massive” investigation following the attack, which has seen a total of 22 people arrested in relation to suspected terror offences thanks to the work of multiple agencies and more than 1000 police officers.
The police chief said that officers have made “enormous progress” but is still seeking help from members of the public who may have been witness to crucial movements the days and weeks leading up to the attack.
Det Chf Supt Jackson said: “We are three weeks on from the horrific incident that took place at 10.31pm on Monday 22 May when Salman Abedi detonated an improvised explosive device killing 22 people and leaving many more with serious injuries, some life changing.
“We now have a deep understanding of Salman Abedi’s movements in and out of the country in the weeks leading up to the attack. We understand how the chemicals and equipment were obtained and where the bomb was assembled. We have an understanding of where he has been in the days before the explosion almost hour by hour
“We said at the start we had to rapidly understand whether this was an attack committed by an isolated individual or a wider network and we have made enormous progress in this and are far more confident on who was not involved and who could still be involved.
“In the first few hours after the attack the priority of the investigation was to identify the attacker. This urgent work was needed to identify any other threats or possible further attacks. Within two hours Abedi’s identity was known through the work of forensic teams who attended the scene.
“In such investigations we try to piece together the last movements of the attacker and understand if they were helped. This has been one of the main lines of inquiry in this case. During the investigation we have arrested 22 people in relation to suspected terrorism offences. Two were quickly de-arrested at the place of their detention because we were satisfied that they were not involved. The remaining people have now been released without charge.
“We have conducted 29 house searches looking for evidence of explosives and connections to the attacker. We have found evidence of explosive material at several locations. Each location has links to Abedi.
“This is one of the largest investigations Greater Manchester Police has ever conducted. We have interviewed hundreds of witnesses and there are many hundreds of hours of CCTV being examined. There are now more than 8,000 entries on our logging system and we have seized around 700 media devices such as phones which are being examined for evidence.
"Each of the 20 detained people have been interviewed many times and they have been questioned about their associations and contacts with Abedi. During the investigation, we have uncovered a number of suspicious purchases of materials by individuals which can be used to make explosives. We have identified contact with Abedi that occurred close to the attack time and in some cases the presence of people of interest to the inquiry in Manchester City Centre on the evening of the attack. Although this is not the case for every person, it is factors such as these that have led us to make arrests.
“Some of those arrested and now released have offered accounts which explain innocent contact with Abedi and we are, at this time, satisfied with these explanations. However, this has taken a considerable amount of time to work through to ensure we are satisfied and that the risk to the public has been considered. As more information comes in it will be acted upon immediately.
“It appears that in the final days Abedi sought to transfer money out of the country and this has taken some time to understand in the context of the contacts he made in the hours running up to the attack.
“What is clear so far is that Abedi left the UK on 15 April. He travelled to Libya and returned back into the UK on the 18 May. It seems that he was intent on committing the attack within days as CCTV has shown him purchasing more items for the bomb soon after he arrived back. We have tracked him buying nuts from a DIY store that were used for shrapnel as well as the tin which we believe the explosive was placed in. He has also been tracked going to and from the Banff Road area of Rusholme.”
Police have now released images of barrels stored in a white Micra, which was found in Rusholme and is being treated as “considerable evidence” due to its forensic connections with Abedi and bomb materials found inside.
The statement adds: “We believe items were stored in it during that time, either materials to make a bomb or a pre-made charge. The actual assembly of all the parts appears to have been in the days immediately before the attack.
“We are still working on the detail of this and continue to appeal to the public for help if they have seen this R registration Micra being used and if they have seen anyone going to and from the Micra at Devall Court after 13 April.
“We are especially interested in movements on 14 April as we believe this was a crucial date in the car being parked with bomb components in it.
“The search at the landfill site for the blue suitcase is also continuing and we expect it to go on for some time. We believe the blue suitcase contains items Abedi discarded after having assembled the device and it could contain crucial evidence.
“Our enquiries show that the assembly of the device is likely to have been by Abedi himself. What is less clear is whether he acted alone in obtaining the materials for the device before he left the country on 15 April and whether others knew or were complicit in the storage of materials knowing what was being planned. Understanding this is crucial to our work in the coming weeks and months.
“Hashem Abedi, the brother of Salman Abedi, left the country at the same time as the attacker on 15 April. Hashem Abedi is currently detained in Libya, there is much media reporting about what he has said in Libya and we wish to interview him in relation to this attack.
“This was a premeditated, calculated and vicious attack. It was planned carefully and has caused devastation and heartbreak to so many. We have a massive team still working flat out on it and there are critical lines of enquiry at home and abroad which we will relentlessly pursue.”