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Manchester Arena Inquiry: Arena bomber's father part of militia, terrorist says

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By Daniel De Simone

BBC News

Image source, MAI

Image caption,

Abdalraouf Abdallah said bomber Salman Abedi was "part of my circle"

A convicted terrorist has admitted he was in the same Libyan militia group as the Manchester Arena bomber's father.

Abdalraouf Abdallah, a friend of Salman Abedi, was brought from HMP Wakefield to give evidence at the Manchester Arena Inquiry into the 2017 attack.

The 28-year-old accepted he joined the "Tripoli Brigade" in the Libyan war in 2011 and that Ramadan Abedi - Salman's father - was also part of the militia.

MI5 consider Ramadan played a role in radicalising sons Hashem and Salman.

Twenty-two people were killed and hundreds more injured when Salman Abedi detonated his device at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.

The inquiry is investigating what role Abdallah, from the Moss Side area of Manchester, may have played in radicalising Salman and whether he knew in advance about the Arena attack.

Giving evidence, Abdallah said that Salman Abedi was "part of my circle" and he had known the Abedi brothers "since we were babies".

The inquiry heard Salman Abedi visited him in prison in the months before the bombing.

Abdallah said text exchanges with Salman Abedi - recovered in November 2014 - in which they discussed martyrdom were "normal chitchat".

The witness denied radicalising the bomber, saying: "I don't even have an extreme mindset myself" and "I am not a groomer and I was not grooming Salman to anything".

He added that a friend Elyas Elmehdi, who is a formal suspect in relation to the arena attack, was fighting in Libya at the time and had been telling him about the death of various friends.

"We were praying we want them to be accepted by God and for even us to be granted that place in heaven… as a martyr ourselves," he said.

Image source, Family handouts

Image caption,

Twenty-two people died in the bombing on 22 May 2017

Pete Weatherby QC, representing several bereaved families, said the prisoner's lengthy chats with Salman Abedi were "about radicalisation, it was about discussing some kind of perverse death".

Abdalraouf Abdallah denied knowing about the Arena bombing in advance and told the court it was a "horrific act".

He also denied knowing about Abedi's radicalisation and said that "me and my boys will actually slap the hell out of him" had they known.

"We would have told his mum straightaway," he added.

He said Salman Abedi "probably" did fight in Libya, but he did not see the bomber "on the front line".

Image source, MAI

Image caption,

Abdalraouf Abdallah denied knowing about the radicalisation of Salman Abedi (pictured)

Abdallah was jailed in July 2016 after being convicted of facilitating the movement of money and fighters to Syria, where some of them joined the Islamic State group.

He uses a wheelchair due to injuries he received in 2011 while fighting in Libya in a unit that was part of the Islamist militia group the 17 February Martyrs Brigade, the inquiry heard.

Abdallah said he was "trained by NATO" when he first joined the militia.

He was asked if the arena bomber's father, Ramadan, had been involved in the fighting.

"I know he was helping. That's all I know," he said. But the witness confirmed that Ramadan Abedi was also part of the 17 February Martyrs Brigade.

Ramadan Abedi is a suspect in the police investigation into the arena bombing, but has never been questioned because he lives in Libya.

The inquiry has previously been shown images of the family brandishing weapons and a UK counter-terror investigation recovered a shot of Salman Abedi in front of a logo of the militia group.

Abdallah denied seeing Hashem and Salman Abedi taking part in any fighting in Libya.

Image source, MAI

Image caption,

Ramadan Abedi (right) with his son Ismail Abedi

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked if both he and Salman Abedi had been "jointly praising the concept of martyrdom".

"Yeah that is what we're doing… This is the Islam religion," Abdallah said.

"It is not something that me and Salman made up.

"If you think that is extreme or terrorist then you have got a problem with the Islam religion itself."

Asked by inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders why he had been having such discussions with Salman Abedi, he said the pair had been listening to descriptions of "maidens of heaven and that's how it happened basically".

The witness said "most of my boys actually were involved" when asked if a friend from Manchester - Ahmed Taghdi - had taken part in the conflict.

When pressed if Mr Taghdi was one of those involved, he replied: "I believe he was."

Mr Taghdi previously told the inquiry he did not fight in the conflict.

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