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Terrorist 'haunted' by fact his friend became Arena bomber, inquiry told

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A terrorist has told the Manchester Arena Inquiry how he is "haunted" by his friend Salman Abedi becoming a suicide bomber who killed 22 people

Author: Kim Pilling, PAPublished 25th Nov 2021

Last updated 25th Nov 2021

A terrorist has told the Manchester Arena Inquiry how he is "haunted" by his friend Salman Abedi becoming a suicide bomber who killed 22 people.

Abdalraouf Abdallah, 28, told the hearing into the May 2017 atrocity that he played no part in grooming the 22-year-old into an extremist mindset before he caused carnage at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.

His Libyan family fled the murderous regime of Colonel Gaddafi in the early 1990s and were granted asylum in the UK where they moved to South Manchester, along with Abedi's family who were also anti-Gaddafi.

In July 2016, Abdallah received an extended sentence of nine-and-a-half years, with a custodial term of five-and-a-half years, after he was convicted of preparing and funding acts of terrorism by helping four men from Manchester travel to Syria where three of them fought for so-called Islamic State (IS).

His mobile phone was seized when he was arrested in late November 2014 on suspicion of those offences and later analysis revealed more than 1,000 message exchanges with Abedi in the weeks before, including discussions about martyrdom.

Abdallah, a serving prisoner at HMP Wakefield, told the inquiry on Thursday the martyrdom chat was "nothing to do with extremism or terrorism" and was about friends who had died in conflict.

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked: "In those messages, or some of them, were you grooming or seeking to groom Salman Abedi into an extremist mindset?

Abdallah said: "No, I don't even have an extreme mindset myself. My fight from the start was against Gaddafi and (Syrian leader) Assad so I'm not a groomer. I was not grooming Salman or anyone."

Mr Greaney went on: "Do you accept that the type of discussion you were having with Salman Abedi played at least a part in what caused him to become radicalised?"

Abdallah said: "I never knew that he was radicalised. I didn't play any part of radicalising."

Inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders asked: "Did you ever have any suspicion that he would become a suicide bomber?"

Abdallah replied: "No, no way. Not me or my friends or anyone had any idea what was going on in Salman's head."

He said when he learned of the news in prison that his friend was the bomber, he was "crying, confused and shocked".

Abdallah said: "It's something that I can never, ever, ever take out of my mind and it is haunting me until now because he is my friend.

"I got convicted, went to prison and I was busy with my life. I have seen him twice after my conviction, in prison, and called him a couple of times but he only answered twice and that's all I know.

"Until now it's haunting me. It's still going in my head now. Why? When? How come?"

A radicalisation expert instructed by the inquiry has concluded Abdallah did groom Abedi into a "violent Islamist extremist worldview".

Abdallah, a paraplegic who was injured fighting against Gaddafi forces in the 2011 Libya uprising, unsuccessfully appealed against his terror conviction and maintains his innocence.

He also denies any involvement in or knowledge of the arena attack.

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