How the Manchester Arena terrorist became radicalised
The life of the Manchester Arena bomber was an extremist “Petri dish absolutely brimming with germs”, the inquiry into the terror attack has concluded. A damning 226-page report detailed how Isis-supporting Salman Abedi was exposed to “malign presences” through his family and friendship group, including being taken to Libya to fight in the country’s civil war.
Aged just 22, Abedi launched the deadliest terror attack to strike the UK since the 2005 London bombings, detonating a powerful homemade suicide bomb among crowds of young fans leaving an Ariana Grande concert. Children as young as eight were among the 22 victims of the blast, which was claimed by Isis in a statement praising Abedi as a “soldier of the caliphate”.
Abedi did not leave behind a message explaining his motivations, but his brother and co-conspirator Hashem Abedi later admitted that the attack had been carried out in support of the terrorist group. A police investigation concluded that the brothers’ radicalisation was “not due to a single moment, event or person”, but that it was the result of an astounding combination of factors since they were born, starting with the extremist beliefs of both their parents.
They were influenced by extremist friends in Manchester, including Isis recruiter Abdalraouf Abdallah, and fought as teenagers alongside Islamist militias in the Libyan civil war. An expert report drawn up for the inquiry concluded that “by 2017 every conceivable radicalising malign presence and noxious absence existed in Abedi’s life”.
“I have never seen such a complete picture of the Petri dish absolutely brimming with germs,” the author wrote.
Inquiry chair Sir John Saunders agreed with the analysis and said it was not clear when Abedi had moved into the “operational phase” of planning an attack. “I am satisfied that by the end of 2016 Salman and Hashem Abedi had become entirely committed to violent action of some extreme kind,” he added.
“The Abedis’ upbringing as children made them very vulnerable to radicalisation [but] the real movement towards radicalisation started in around late 2013 ... when people close to them started to show significant interest in Islamic State.”
The inquiry found that Abedi was influenced by his childhood friend Abdalraouf Abdallah, with whom he maintained contact by way of an illicit phone after Abdallah was jailed as an Isis recruiter. He was also friends with Raphael Hostey, who travelled to Syria from Manchester to join Isis and was killed in a drone strike.
A report published yesterday said that both Abdallah and Hostey had functioned as inspirational “poster boys” among their peer group in Manchester as well as among wider Isis supporters, and that the influence on Abedi was particularly strong after he dropped out of education and he and his brother were left living alone when their parents moved back to Libya.
The report concluded that the family of Salman Abedi “holds significant responsibility” for his radicalisation, with his father Ramadan Abedi, mother Samia Tabbal, and elder brother Ismail Abedi all holding extremist views.
“Ramadan Abedi took his sons to Libya during the period of conflict, and it is likely that Salman and Hashem were involved
in combat there,” it added. “It is probable that they were radicalised in Libya to some extent and that they obtained some form of training or assistance in how to build a bomb in Libya, as well as countersurveillance training.”
Photographs obtained by police after the attack show both teenagers carrying guns in Libya, and standing with relatives of al-Qaeda commander Abu Anas al-Libi.
Abedi’s parents moved to the UK from Libya in 1993 and were granted asylum on the basis that they faced persecution under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Ramadan had links to Islamist militia the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and returned to Libya numerous times, moving back to live there after Gaddafi was toppled in the violent civil war.
The Abedi family lived in Libya for almost two years from September 2011 onwards, and while the children moved back to the UK with their mother in 2013, she later rejoined her husband and left Salman and Hashem living alone.
In 2010, the MI5-led Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre conducted a regional assessment of Manchester that warned that young
Libyan-linked individuals “might be influenced by the elder generations’ historical links to extremist groups such as the LIFG”. The inquiry found that MI5 had “underestimated the risk posed by returnees from Libya” during the period because of its focus on Isis fighters in Syria.
A cousin told the inquiry how, after his trip to Libya in 2011, Abedi’s behaviour had changed and he had started “going out partying, drinking, smoking weed [cannabis]” and that he had developed an addiction to the painkiller tramadol. His behaviour at school became increasingly poor, and from 2015 onwards, friends reported the brothers appearing increasingly “devout” and dropping their “gangster lifestyle”.
Abedi openly “talked at length about political matters in the Middle East and north Africa and displayed signs of affiliation with or support for Islamic State”, the report said, but he was not referred to the Prevent counterterror scheme.
Sir John said there was “insufficient evidence to attribute specific knowledge of the attack to members of the Abedi family”, but criticised the bomber’s parents for failing to give evidence to the inquiry. Currently in Libya, Ramadan Abedi and Samia Tabbal were contacted but refused to provide any form of statement, while the elder brother of Salman, Ismail Abedi, fled the UK “in order to avoid giving evidence”.
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