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MI5 and UK police foiled an alleged Islamist plot to attack Prime Minister Theresa May at Downing Street — one of nine alleged terror attacks to be stopped by the security services since the Westminster Bridge attack in March.
A 20-year-old man will appear at Westminster Magistrates court on Wednesday morning charged in connection with the alleged plot, according to people briefed on the situation.
In a statement the Metropolitan Police said that he and a second man, a 21-year-old from Birmingham, had been arrested on November 28 and charged with terrorism offences.
Security sources did not confirm reports that the plotters had planned to detonate a bomb in Downing Street and then follow up with a knife attack.
MI5’s director-general Andrew Parker attended a meeting of Mrs May’s cabinet on Tuesday morning although it was not confirmed whether he briefed ministers on the terror plot.
The details emerged only a few hours after an official report concluded that MI5 could have prevented the terror attack in Manchester, which killed 22 people, if it had not “wrongly” interpreted intelligence on the bomber, Salman Abedi.
The review by David Anderson QC, the UK’s former independent reviewer of terror legislation, stops short of blaming MI5 and counter terror police for failing to prevent four attacks in the UK since March, which led to the deaths of 36 people.
But his report — an independent assessment of MI5 and the counter terror police’s own internal reviews — highlights shortcomings in the way the security service and the police work together and share intelligence with local police forces and local authorities.
“It is conceivable that the Manchester attack in particular might have been averted if the cards had fallen differently,” Mr Anderson concludes.
The report goes on to spell out that, while Abedi was not a subject of interest at the time of the Manchester attack on May 22, on two separate occasions MI5 had received intelligence which, had it been interpreted differently, might have led the security agency to open an investigation into him.
Salman Abedi on the night he carried out the Manchester Arena terror attack © PA
Separately MI5 carried out a digital sweep of data on 20,000 low level terror suspects that identified Abedi as one of a “few dozen” people worthy of closer investigation, Mr Anderson said.
A meeting to discuss what action might be taken was due to be held on May 31 — nine days after Abedi detonated his home-made suicide bomb at an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena in the deadliest single terror attack to hit Britain since the 7/7 bombings in 2005.
MI5 concludes in its internal review that the intelligence would not have thwarted the attacks. Mr Anderson said it was “unknowable” whether it would have made any difference but added that it would have “been better to have an investigation”.
In a further blow to MI5, the report said the ringleader of June’s London Bridge attack, Khuram Butt, was actively under investigation at the time of the attack as part of an operation that was opened in 2015.
Mr Anderson was brought in by Home Secretary Amber Rudd in June to independently verify the internal reviews by MI5 and the police.
The two separate reviews, which run to 1150 pages and which have not been published because they are classified, list 126 different recommendations for improving MI5 and the police’s anti terror measures.
These include plans to make greater use of technology to speed up the way MI5 processes data to identify terror suspects from its watch list of 20,000 individuals and closer collaboration with tech companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google.