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Didsbury Mosque react after Arena victims' families criticism

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Didsbury Mosque have responded to claims made by the bereaved families of the Manchester Arena attack that they 'failed to challenge extremist ideology.'

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi killed 22 people when a bomb exploded in the foyer of the music venue following an Ariana Grande concert on May 22, 2017.

He and his convicted brother, Hasham Abedi, attended the mosque, also known as Manchester Islamic Centre as youngsters.

READ MORE: Manchester Arena Inquiry hears evidence from jailed Islamic State recruiter

An inquiry into the atrocity heard this week that Salman Abedi flashed an Imam a 'hateful look' after he gave a sermon speaking out against terrorism and Islamic extremism at the mosque.

Mohammed El-Saeiti, a former Imam, said he received death threats on social media over his address.

And the inquiry heard Ismail Abedi, the elder brother who has now flown out of the country, approached him at the mosque days after he gave the sermon and criticised him for what he said in it.

The families said in a statement: "Whilst there is no evidence that Manchester Islamic Centre played a direct role in radicalising Salman Abedi, it is clear that they failed in the years before the bombing to take adequate steps to challenge extremist ideology."

The 22 victims of the terror attack (Image: Manchester Evening News)

Reacting to the claims, Didsbury Mosque said they "unreservedly condemn" all acts of hate and terror.

They added that no evidence was ever presented that suggested a link between the radicalisation of Salman Abedi and the mosque, and that had trustees been aware of such extremism, they would have reported it to the police.

The mosque also confirmed that Mohammed El-Saeiti had been made redundant from his position at the Manchester Islamic Centre, and that an ongoing industrial tribunal case is ongoing.

They stated that the mosque disputed the evidence that Mr El-Saeiti gave to the inquiry.

Mr El-Saeiti, giving evidence on Wednesday, said up to 1,500 worshippers at the mosque heard the sermon on October 3, 2014 - the same day as a video of the murder by Islamic State of Salford taxi driver Alan Henning was released.

He said it was a 'warning against fighting and enmity between people' and referenced the 'religious extremism and ghastly crimes done by fanatics - whatever they call themselves'.

Mr El-Saeiti said weeks after he had delivered the sermon, there were two 'encounters' with Salman Abedi.

"I never spoke to him," he said.

"One encounter was in the corridor [of the mosque]. I think he was with Hashem and he gave me a hateful look. So, he looked at me with hate. He showed me that he didn't like me, basically."

He also referenced another earlier 'encounter' when Salman and Hashem sat 'very close to me' in the pulpit during Friday prayers.

Mohammed El-Saeiti, a former Imam at Didsbury Mosque (Image: Arena Inquiry.)

"And, again he didn't like me," he said. "Clearly from his face he wasn't happy with me. This was four to six weeks after my sermon."

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, said 'extremely unpleasant messages' about him and death threats were posted online.

Ramadan Abedi, the father of Arena bomber Salman, posted a message on Facebook under the name Yousef M Hanna, the inquiry heard.

The post read: "The worshippers in the mosque must seek to isolate this man so that events do not develop and what is not rewarding happens and the mosque is closed by the British government. God bless."

"He was inciting people against me, clearly," Mr El-Saeiti told the inquiry.

Following Mr El-Saeiti's evidence, the bereaved families of the victims slammed the mosque for failing to do more to challenge extremist ideologies.

Tributes to the 22 victims of the Manchester Arena attack (Image: MEN MEDIA)

In a full statement, they said: "We have absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of Muslims in this country are peace loving, law abiding and totally opposed to terrorism.

"Where pockets of extremism and violent ideology exist, it is imperative that those who seek community leadership confront and combat that extremism without hesitation or equivocation.

"Whilst there is no evidence that Manchester Islamic Centre played a direct role in radicalising Salman Abedi, it is clear that they failed in the years before the bombing to take adequate steps to challenge extremist ideology.

"We believe that the mosque failed to do all that it could and should have done to combat and prevent radicalisation amongst the community it purports to serve.

"When it comes to combating terrorism and terrorist ideology, there can be no complacency and no turning a blind eye. "

Didsbury Mosque's statement in full

Big We Love Manchester sign going up at Didsbury mosque (Image: Manchester Evening News)

"MIC stands with Manchester and the wider community in unreservedly condemning all acts of hate and terror and is grateful to the Inquiry for the important work being done in attempting to uncover why such an attack was able to be committed.

"The families of victims deserve to know the truth. We co-operated fully with the Inquiry as we also wish to understand the truth behind this incident.

"No proven evidence has been presented to suggest a link between the radicalisation of Salman Abedi and the mosque.

"Had the trustees been aware of any such extremism they would have reported it to the Police without hesitation.

"Didsbury Mosque has worked very closely with the local police and Prevent as demonstrated by a seminar that was held at the mosque prior to the Manchester Arena bombing.

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"The MIC had informal policies to guide sermons and other activities, to prevent any drift to extremism or politics and on two occasions these informal guidelines were reinforced when we felt that they were breached, when two sermons touched controversial areas.

"Clearly, there needs to be a greater transfer of information between all government bodies including the police and intelligence services and places the community frequent, such as mosques and other such places.

"Information relating to potential radicalisation of individuals has never been passed to MIC by any government body and MIC believes that this should have be done in order to allow places of worship and schools to focus on individuals who might be susceptible to radicalisation.

"The Libyan factionalism arising out of the Libyan revolution also existed among the Muslim community in Manchester.

"On a few occasions, it spilled over into the mosque among staff and congregation, we have had to manage that.

"Factional politics has no place at our mosque and should be considered separately from the abhorrent and callous act of Salman Abedi and his brand of extremism and terror which has nothing to do with the mosque or Islam.

"Mr Saeiti was made redundant from the mosque in August 2020 after a restructuring process and there is an ongoing industrial tribunal case, so we are unable to comment further on the matter other than to say that the mosque disputes what he has said and has not been given the opportunity to cross examine or test his evidence and as such, it remains his opinion only.

"In closing, the mosque cannot express enough sadness and sympathy to the families of the victims and seeks to assure all, that could anything more have been done to prevent this heinous act from taking place, it most certainly would have."

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