By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND (ANS – May 27, 2017) — British authorities are making headway in trying to contain the network they believe is behind the Manchester attack as it emerged that the suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, reportedly spoke to his brother in Libya just 15 minutes before he detonated his explosives, according to CNN.
“We are following up on the network, rolling it up, trying to contain it. As you’ve seen from the number of arrests, we are on the right track to try to contain it,” UK Security Minister Ben Wallace told CNN in Manchester on Friday. “In the end, you get to the bottom of a network.”
CNN has reported that investigators continue to work around the clock to track down associates of Abedi, a 22-year-old Briton of Libyan descent, amid fears he is part of a network plotting further mayhem.
On Friday, authorities arrested a man from Manchester’s Rusholme neighborhood. Then, two more men were arrested early Saturday, police said in a statement. The men were taken into custody after officers carried out a controlled explosion to enter a home in the Cheetham Hill area of central Manchester.
CNN said these actions brought the total number of people arrested in the investigation to 13, with 11 still in custody. Two people have been released without being charged, Greater Manchester police said.
Media reports say Salman Abedi’s brother, Hashim Ramadan Abu Qassem al-Abedi, was arrested in Libya on Tuesday.
Abedi’s younger brother — detained in Libya in the aftermath of the bombing – is reported to have known of his brother’s movements and about the plot, Ahmed Ben Salem, spokesman for the Special Deterrence Force in Tripoli, told the private broadcaster, Libya’s Channel, on Thursday night.
Ben Salem said the brothers spoke on the phone just minutes before the attack at a concert at Manchester Arena, but Hashim told his Libyan interrogators that he did not know details about where and when the blast would be.
CNN reports the Special Deterrence Force in Tripoli, a militia nominally under the control of Libya’s interior ministry, arrested Hashim al-Abedi a day later on suspicion of links to ISIS otherwise known as Islamic State (IS). The militia also arrested the brothers’ father, Ramadan al-Abedi.
CNN said that earlier this week the militia said Hashim had admitted — under interrogation — that he and Salman were members of IS. It also said Hashim was in Manchester during the planning for the attack and that he had been aware of the plot.
Ben Salem told Libya’s Channel that Salman Abedi entered Libya on April 19 and left on May 17, telling his family that he was going to Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah pilgrimage. It was a deception, and only his brother Hashim knew that Salman actually returned to the UK, according to Ben Salem.
Asked if there was any indication Salman Abedi had received training in Libya or planned an attack inside Libya, Ben Salem said, “I don’t think so.” Based on what the bomber’s brother has told the militia, “everything was prepared in Manchester” since the end of 2016, he said.
US officials told CNN this week that it is likely Salman Abedi received some IS training by traveling to Syria in the months before the bombing, according to information gathered in the preliminary investigation.
Monday’s attack on concert-goers leaving an Ariana Grande show killed 22 people, many of them children, and injured dozens more.
In her first comments since the attack, Grande said Friday in a note on Twitter that she is sorry for the “pain and fear” her fans are feeling. She said the fans killed Monday will be on her mind and in her heart forever.
“I will think of them with everything I do for the rest of my life,” said the singer, who also announced Friday that she will hold a benefit concert in honor of the victims of the Manchester attack.
What is his family background?
Britain’s Telegraph newspaper (www.telegraph.co.uk) reports Abedi was born and raised in Manchester in 1994, the second youngest of four children, and grew up in a Muslim household, but matured into a university dropout with an appetite for bloodshed.
His parents, mother Samia Tabbal and father Ramadan Abedi, a security officer, are Libyan-born refugees who fled to the UK to escape Gaddafi. It is thought they returned in 2011 following Gaddafi’s overthrow.
Abedi is thought to have an older brother Ismail Abedi, who was born in Westminster in 1993, a younger brother Hashim Abedi, and a sister Jomana, whose Facebook profile suggests she is from Tripoli and lives in Manchester.
A family friend, who asked not to be named, said the family were known to the Libyan community in the city and described Abedi as “normal.” He told the Press Association (PA): “He was always friendly, nothing to suggest (he was violent). He was normal, to be honest.”
Abedi is believed to have attended the Manchester Islamic Center, also known as the Didsbury Mosque.
Sheikh Mohammad Saeed said he believed Abedi had displayed a “face of hate” after the imam gave a sermon denouncing terrorism.
The Telegraph reported that Abedi went to Burnage Academy for Boys between 2009 and 2011, and then on to Salford University in 2014 where he studied business management before dropping out, according to a source.
The Telegraph source said Abedi began his course in 2014 and attended lectures for two years but then stopped going. He would have graduated this summer. He did not live in university accommodation, had not been in any trouble at the university, and was not on any radar for pastoral or social care.
It is understood Abedi was not known to have participated in any clubs or societies during his time in higher education and never met with the resident imam.
Where did he live?
He was registered as living at the Abedi family home Elsmore Road, south Manchester as recently as last year, where plainclothes police raided a downstairs red-bricked semi-detached property on Tuesday.
The newspaper said neighbors recalled an abrasive, tall, skinny young man who was little known in the neighborhood, and often seen in traditional Islamic clothing. He is thought to have lived at a number of addresses in the area, including one in Wilbraham Road, where officers arrested a man on Tuesday.
Abedi previously lived with his parents and a brother.
What have the neighbors said?
Neighbors in Elsmore Road told how Abedi had become increasingly devout and withdrawn.
Lina Ahmed, 21, said: “They are a Libyan family and they have been acting strangely. A couple of months ago he [Salman] was chanting the first kalma [Islamic prayer] really loudly in the street. He was chanting in Arabic.
“He was saying ‘There is only one God and the prophet Mohammed is his messenger.’”
A family friend, who described the Abedis as “very religious,” said most of the family had returned to Libya, leaving only Salman and his older brother Ismail behind.
“They have not been there for quite a while. Different people come and go,” said Alan Kinsey, 52, a car-delivery driver who lives across the street. Kinsey’s wife, Frances, 48, a care worker, said she believed that the parents had left before Christmas and just one or two young men had been living in the property.
Kinsey said a huge flag, possibly Iraqi or Libyan, had been hanging from their house. “There was a large Iraqi flag hanging out the window but we never thought anything of it,” Kinsey added. “We thought it was about football or a protest at home or something.”
How did he become radicalized?
Abedi has “proven” links with Islamic State, according to France’s interior minister as cited by The Telegraph.
Gerard Collomb told French television that both British and French intelligence services had information that Abedi had been in Syria. Collomb said: “All of a sudden he travelled to Libya and then most likely to Syria, became radicalized and decided to commit this attack.”
Abedi had been a “regular kid,” who went out and drank until around a year ago when he “dropped off the radar,” the Times reported the bomber’s former landlord’s nephew as saying.
The paper quoted a friend as saying he had returned from a three-week trip to Libya in recent days.
Abedi’s trips to Libya are now subject to scrutiny, including links to jihadists.
A group of Gaddafi dissidents, who were members of the outlawed Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), lived within close proximity to Abedi in Whalley Range.
Among them was Abd al-Baset Azzouz, a father-of-four from Manchester, who left Britain to run a terrorist network in Libya overseen by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor as leader of al-Qaeda.
Azzouz, 48, an expert bomb-maker, was accused of running an al-Qaeda network in eastern Libya. The Telegraph reported in 2014 that Azzouz had 200 to 300 militants under his control and was an expert in bomb-making.
How was he identified?
It has emerged in US media reports that the bomber was identified by a bank card in his pocket.
According to NBC News, citing a US intelligence official, members of the bomber’s family warned security officials about him in the past, saying that he was “dangerous.”
The official told the broadcaster that Abedi likely “had help” making the “big and sophisticated bomb.”
Has his family spoken?
Speaking for the first time about his son’s death, Abedi’s father said: “We don’t believe in killing innocents. This is not us.”
Speaking from Tripoli, he told AP this his son was innocent and confirmed that British police had arrested another of his sons, believed to be a 23-year-old arrested in south Manchester on Tuesday.
Abedi’s sister, Jomana, suggested he carried out the attack for revenge on US air strikes in Syria.
“I think he saw children — Muslim children — dying everywhere, and wanted revenge,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “He saw the explosives America drops on children in Syria, and he wanted revenge. Whether he got that is between him and God.”
His brother Hashim reportedly knew he was planning the attack. “His brother felt there was something going on there in Manchester and he thought his brother would do something like bombing or attack. So after that, he told us, ‘Having internet, I see the attack in Manchester and I knew that’s my brother’,” a spokesman for Libyan authorities told BBC2’s Newsnight.
He revealed that Abedi’s younger brother Hashim had been investigated for about a month and a half over suspicions that he was linked to IS.
“We were not quite sure about this, but when we arrested and we asked him, he told us, ‘I have ideology with my brother’. Hashim told us, ‘I know everything about my brother, what he was doing there in Manchester.'”
CNN’s Hala Gorani reported from Manchester and Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported from London. CNN’s Lonzo Cook, Jomana Karadsheh, Mariano Castillo, James Gray, Richard Allen Greene, Sarah Chiplin and Barbara Starr contributed to the original CNN report. Martin Evans, Victoria Ward, Robert Mendick, (Chief Reporter), Ben Farmer, (Defense Correspondent), Hayley Dixon and Danny Boyl, contributed to the original Telegraph report.
Photo captions: 1) Salman Abedi (Facebook). 2) Hashim al-Abedi (CNN) 3) Messages left at Manchester vigil. 4) Injured girl being helped to safety. 5) Scene at the vigil (Peter Wooding). 6) Shock in the face of a woman after the bomb blast. 7) Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael
** You may republish this or any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net). Please also tell your friends and colleagues that they can get a complimentary subscription to ANS by going to the website and signing up there.