The bomber who killed 22 people at a pop concert in Manchester, England, last month had met in Libya with members of an Islamic State unit linked to the November 2015 Paris terrorist attack, according to current and retired intelligence officials.
The content of the communications between the attacker, Salman Abedi, and the terrorist cell remains unknown. But the possibility that he was directed or enabled by Islamic State operatives in Libya, as opposed to Syria, suggests that even as the group’s Middle East base is shrinking, at least one of its remote franchises is developing ways to continue attacks within Europe.
On visits to Tripoli as well as to the coastal Libyan town of Sabratha, Mr. Abedi met with operatives of the Katibat al-Battar al-Libi, a core Islamic State unit that was headquartered in Syria before some of its members dispersed to Libya.
Originally made up of Libyans who had gone to Syria to fight in the civil war, the unit became a magnet for French and Belgian foreign fighters, and several were dispatched to carry out attacks abroad. Some of the terrorist group’s most devastating hits in Europe, including the coordinated attack in Paris in 2015, were shaped by alumni of the brigade.