Manchester Arena bomber gave imam ‘hateful look’ after he denounced extremism, inquiry told

The former imam was hounded for criticising some extremist groups as ‘dogs of hellfire’

Lamiat Sabin
Wednesday 24 November 2021 21:25
<p>Salman Abedi inside a lift shortly before the Manchester Arena attack on 22 May 2017</p>

Salman Abedi inside a lift shortly before the Manchester Arena attack on 22 May 2017

A suicide bomber responsible for the Manchester Arena terror attack gave an imam a “hateful look” after he preached against extremism, an inquiry has heard.

Mohammed Saeed El-Saeiti, a former imam at Didsbury Mosque, has been giving evidence to an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Salman Abedi’s attack at a pop concert on 22 May 2017.

Twenty-two people were killed and hundreds were injured, mainly women and young girls.

Mr El-Saeiti’s sermon rallied against the so-called Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and Libyan militia groups such as Ansar al-Sharia and the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, who he referred to in his mosque sermon as “dogs of hellfire”.

Mr El-Saeiti said that at the end of the sermon a man snatched the microphone from him and accused him of espousing political views.

He said: “This man was a cardiologist. I told him he should feel ashamed to defend Isis. I did tell him in front of the congregation.”

Mr El-Saeiti added: “I was speaking about the sanctity of human life. So I didn’t mention political groups. I’m not affiliated with any political party, I was just basically combatting terrorism and extremism.”

He said that, some time after one of his speeches against Isis, he had passed Manchester-born Salman, 22, in a corridor at the mosque, adding: “He gave me a hateful look. He showed me that he didn’t like me, basically.”

“He gave me a hateful look. He showed me that he didn’t like me, basically”

Weeks after the sermon, Salman and his brother Hashem, 20, were sat “very close” to the pulpit and Mr El-Saeiti said he could see from Salman’s face that “he was not happy with me”.

Mr El-Saeiti said: “One of the congregation told me he sent his children to sit behind them in case ‘they might do something to you’.”

His speech also prompted a petition calling for his dismissal, with signatories including Salman’s brothers Hashem and Ismail, as well as online death threats.

He said he went on to phone Salman’s father Ramadan Abedi because he believed his Facebook post calling on him to quit had incited harm against him.

Mr El-Saeiti said: “He said to me ‘you spoke about the brothers of Ansar al-Sharia’. He said ‘I know them, they are good people’. So I then told them they are terrorists, they behead, they kill.”

Ansar al-Sharia was a banned terror group in the US at the time of his sermon in October 2014, and the organisation was proscribed in the UK a month later.

He said Ismail also confronted him outside Didsbury Mosque and criticised him for speaking out against “the brothers”.

Libyan-born Mr El-Saeiti told the inquiry that he had raised concerns over regular “secret meetings” of Libyans supporting such extreme organisations held at the mosque in 2015 and 2016, which he said were allowed by the mosque’s trustees.

But, he said, as far as he knew, the majority of Libyans who attended the mosque, also known as the Manchester Islamic Centre, were anti-Colonel Gaddafi, the late deposed leader of Libya.

He said sympathisers of terrorist groups in Benghazi were among the congregation and that “some of them signed the petition”.

Mosque chairman Fawzi Haffar has denied any such meetings took place and labelled Mr El-Saeiti “a liar” who he said held a grudge after he was made redundant.

Mr Haffar said Didsbury Mosque was “middle of the road, mainstream” and rejected any suggestion it was not doing enough to address whether members of its congregation were being radicalised.

The inquiry has also heard that Salman’s brother Ismail, 28, helped in Koran reading classes at the mosque between February 2014 and July 2017, while during that time in possession of “significant” extremist material on his electronic devices.

In August, Ismail was allowed to leave the UK a month after he was summonsed to give evidence to the inquiry.

His father Ramadan regularly performed the call to prayer at the mosque and his mother Samia worked as a teacher there, the inquiry has heard.

Both parents are currently in Libyan capital Tripoli, while under surveillance by authorities, and remain suspects in the bombing.

A Libyan security source said there is no evidence against the parents, who left the UK a month before the attack, the BBC has reported.

Libya extradited Hashem to the UK in 2019, and he is now serving 55 years in prison for his role in the atrocity.

Salman is believed to have fought against the Gaddafi regime with Ramadan during the school holidays when he was just 16, the BBC had also reported.

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