Police and security services have found bomb-making materials which could be primed for imminent attacks in the extensive raids following the Manchester suicide bombing, The Independent has learned.
One suspect device was blown up in a controlled explosion and security sources say that there is a real possibility that there are other materials yet to be found. The law agencies are convinced that a terrorist network had been established to carry out a sustained assault and further arrests are likely in and outside Manchester.
Meanwhile family members of the Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi have been arrested in Libya and the UK. The bomber’s father, Ramadan Abedi, was taken away in Tripoli by masked gunmen from a government militia as he was giving a television interview declaring that his dead son was innocent. Another son living in the city with him, Hashem, was detained soon afterwards, with Libyan officials stating that he had links with Isis. Salman Abedi’s mother, Samia Tabbal, and another son, Ismail, have been arrested in Manchester.
Three arrests were made on Tuesday night, and a further three arrests followed on Wednesday of a man in Wigan, a man in Nuneaton and a woman in Blackley, north Manchester.
The focus is now very much on the Libyan connection. Abedi’s father was a fighter with an Islamist group banned by the UN’s Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee after the 9/11 attacks in New York. The Independent has learned he once worked for the Gaddafi regime’s security apparatus before turning towards hardline Islam: one of his associates once ran a group called the Islamic Martyrs’ Movement.
The Abedi elder, also known as Abu Ismail al-Obaidi, was a long-term member of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group (LIFG), which had forged links with al-Qaeda during the war against the Russians in Afghanistan. He left Manchester to take part in the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and currently works with a militia, the Nawasi Brigade, in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
Abedi had joined LIFG when it was run by Abdelhakim Belhaj who now heads a political party, Al Watan, in Libya and is taking legal action against the British government for the "rendition"of him and his wife to the Libyan regime in which MI6 played a part. This was at a time when Muammar Gaddafi was being presented by the UK as a valued ally and feted by prime minister Tony Blair.
Abedi claimed today his son had nothing to do with the murders of 22 people at the Ariana Grande concert. "We don’t believe in killing innocents. This is not us," he insisted. His son, he claimed, was preparing to go to Saudi Arabia before spending the month of Ramadan with the rest of the family in Libya.
The police and security agencies had managed to establish Abedi’s identity quickly after finding his bank card at the scene of the attack. It has also emerged that a member of the family, as yet unnamed, had contacted the police after being alarmed by Abedi’s increasingly aggressive Islamist statements.
The developments came on a day when authorities scrambled to piece together the events that led to Monday night's atrocity in Manchester:
- Police arrested six people in the UK in connection with Monday night's attack after discovering evidence of a wider terrorist cell functioning in the city
- Crime scene photos of shrapnel, a battery pack and the detonator used in the attack were published by The New York Times in a suspected intelligence leak, condemned by UK officials
- 1,000 armed soldiers were deployed to key sites across the country, including Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament
- Police confirmed they had identified the 22 who died, including a serving off-duty police officer from Cheshire Constabulary
Abedi had been to Libya several times. His last visit, according to his father, was six weeks ago. The French foreign minister, Gerard Collomb, claimed today that the British security agencies believe he went on to Syria from Libya. But a senior security source said: "We think he got a few things garbled there, we know that Abedi had gone to Libya, whether he went to Syria or not remains a line of inquiry."
Abedi’s behaviour changed after he returned from his last Libyan visit, according to neighbours and friends with espousal of hardline Islam. It is at this time, it is believed, that one of the calls to the police was made by a member of the extended family.
His father's path to militancy began when he fell out with Gaddafi regime. The Independent has learned that in 1991 he left Libya for Saudi Arabia where he began to attend sermons by Salafist preachers. It was a time when Saudi Arabia was funding, with the US and UK, the mujaheddin war against the Russians in Afghanistan and at a time when LIFG built connections with al-Qaeda. There is no evidence that Abedi had fought in Afghanistan or had links with al-Qaeda.
Abedi left Saudi Arabia for Britain in 1992 with his wife. They lived in London before joining the Libyan community in Manchester, the largest in the UK where they started their family. He returned to Libya in 2008 under a reconciliation programme started by the Gaddafi regime. This involved him, and others taking part, to renounce extremism and violence.
Three years later Abedi was back in Libya in the uprising against Col Gaddafi. The regime fell after months of Nato bombing instigated by Britain and France. In the chaotic aftermath which followed extremist groups, including Isis, moved in. Conditions became ripe for exporting jihad to the UK.
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