The British-born jihadist behind the worst terror attack in Britain in more than a decade in effect killed and maimed people he’d grown up with — making the atrocity even more horrifying for Manchester residents still struggling to come to terms with a bombing that killed 22 people and injured 59 others at a concert of American pop star Ariana Grande.
As the British government raised the terrorist threat level to "critical" — only the second time authorities have done so — details began to emerge of the 22-year-old suicide bomber Salman Abedi, his Libyan paternity, and his alleged ties to a well-known recruiter for the Islamic State terror group and other known jihadists.
He only recently returned from a three-week trip to Libya, according to family members. British police sources say the trip raises the possibility he may have met with members of the terror group’s affiliate in the North African country to plot the attack and to receive training.
Known to police
The portrait drawn of the mass killer who packed his improvised explosive device with nails, nuts and bolts to maximize the slaughter, is a mixed one.
Some neighbors describe him as a football-obsessed fan of Manchester United and keen enthusiast of computer games.
They insist there were no signs the student dropout became radicalized. British security services acknowledged Abedi was known to them — there are some reports the intelligence service may have tried to persuade him to act as an informant — but they did not see him as a high risk.
Others, though, describe a young man full of rage, who denounced a local mosque leader for his criticism of IS. They say he started to pray openly in the streets.
A local imam, Mohammed Saeed, told British newspapers Abedi stopped attending his mosque in 2015 after they argued over IS. “Salman used to come to the mosque occasionally, he wasn’t particularly friendly towards me because he didn’t like my anti-IS sermons. He didn’t like what I was saying and showed me the face of hate. He came to the mosque less and less after that.”
Son of Libyan emigres
Abedi was born in Manchester in 1994, the third of four children, three boys and one girl. His parents were Libyan emigres who found a home in the northern English city after fleeing the Moammar Gadhafi regime in 1980.
His father, Ramadan Abedi, a former security guard at Manchester Airport, returned to Libya in 2011 to join the uprising against the Libyan autocrat. Since Gadhafi’s overthrow his parents spent more time in the North African country than in their home in south Manchester, less than two miles from the scene of Monday’s bombing.
Libyan emigres in Manchester say the bomber’s father had no time for jihadist ideology. “He was always very confrontational with jihadi ideology, and this ISIS thing isn’t even jihad, it’s criminality. The family will be devastated,” one told local newspapers.
According to the Daily Mirror newspaper, Abedi was a family friend of Raphael Hostey, also known as Abu Qaqa al-Britani, who helped recruit other young Britons for Islamic State via social media until he was killed in a drone strike in Syria last year. British police sources say his ties to Hostey are being probed by counter-terror officials who fear Abedi may have been part of a terror cell, a concern heightened by a trip he made to Libya in the run-up to the bombing.
Police also remain skeptical that Abedi could have built the bomb alone because of its sophistication.
Abedi attended local schools and then went on to study business and management at nearby Salford University. In a statement, a university spokesman described him as "completely off the radar. He turned up for lectures for two years and then just stopped coming.”
In the last year-and-half both Abedi and his older brother, 23-year-old Ismail, were active on social media sites, praising jihadists. Police arrested Ismail Monday night hours after the blast. He taught Arabic classes at the Didsbury mosque and, according to locals, was reported to police after concerns were raised about what he was teaching.
Police are also probing the links between the Abedi brothers and another British-Libyan from Manchester, Abdalraouf Abdallah, who was sentenced to a nine-year-prison term after being convicted of funding terrorism and preparing acts of terrorism.
Some analysts argue there were plenty of warning signs about Abedi. In a recent study of young British jihadists for the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank, researcher Emma Webb noted a failure of various agencies and educational institutions to share relevant information about individuals vulnerable to radicalization.
She urged police and social services to share “relevant information on vulnerable individuals so the full picture is known across all agencies.”