Salman Abedi's cousins speak out about shock over Manchester bomber's 'secret' radicalisation

Isaac Forjani says massacre will 'stay with me for the rest of my life'

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 02 June 2017 15:52 BST
Manchester bomber Salman Abedi's cousins speak out

Two of the Manchester bomber’s cousins have said they had no idea about his plans or his “secret” radicalisation.

Isaac and Abz Forjani were arrested during police searches in Fallowfield following the attack but were released without charge after a week of questioning.

“We’re letting it sink in slowly,” Isaac, 24, told the BBC. “It's not easy being connected to 22 lost, innocent lives.

“The fact that the person that did this is related to us by blood is something that's going to stay with me for the rest of my life.

“My thoughts are with the families of the victims. I really do feel for them.

“We went in, we could come out, we can try and move on with our lives. They've lost their loved ones.”

In a separate interview with ITV News, Isaac said he “couldn't’t stop crying” in the first days of questioning, over “little girls, innocent lives”.

After growing up with his cousin and travelling to Libya as a family, he said he did not understand the motivation for Abedi’s attack.

“I don't understand where that ideology comes from, I don't understand what made him do what he did,” he added. “I still don't understand it.“

The two brothers said they last saw Abedi three months before the bombing, when he got his hair trimmed at Abz’ barber shop in Moss Side, which was raided by police.

Abz described his cousin as a “bubbly person that always acted normal”, telling ITV they once had a lot in common, playing football together and “experiencing the party life”.

“The way it’s flipped – I have no idea how that’s happened and why it’s happened,” he added.

The 21-year-old said he had a “pretty close relationship” with his cousin and was still in shock.

“People have seen it as a big network that we’re involved in but it’s nothing like that,” Abz told the BBC, accusing Abedi of “betraying the family”.

Police stand on duty at the Fade-away barber shop on Princess Road in Moss Side, Manchester, on 26 May (AFP/Getty Images)

“I believe it was all done by one man who developed thoughts in the last year [who] developed some sort of thoughts in the past few years which he kept to himself, secretly to himself.

“He never shared it with any members of the family - if he would of, we could have done something to stop that happening.”

Abz claimed his cousin never “admitted extremist views” but alluded to “political opinions”, adding: “It wasn't focused or aimed at a particular group.

”The thought was he was just a religious man taking it way too far, becoming judgemental maybe.

“There's never been a hint of extremism.”

But there are questions about Abz’ own statements on social media, where he reportedly once wrote: “If only Hitler was still alive - these Jews would be burnt in chambers.”

That post has apparently been deleted, but other Twitter rants remain, including one calling Manchester his “no.1 enemy”, adding: “I f***ing hate the s***hole.”

Police released an image of the bomber carrying a distinctive blue suitcase (AP)

In a series of posts on a page naming his Fade’away barber shop, Abz claimed England was “sucking his money in every way”, adding: “Hope it gets bankrupt soon and starts licking Africa's ass.”

He and Isaac, whose younger brother Alharth, remains in custody, suggested their cousin may have been radicalised abroad, but sources with knowledge of the investigation say the opposite.

They believe that Abedi developed extremist beliefs while in Manchester, but that the violence he was exposed to during the Libyan civil war was a key part of the path to launching the attack.

His parents sought refuge in the UK because of links to anti-Gaddafi groups including the banned Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

When the civil war broke out in 2011, they and many other Libyans returned to fight the regime, although it is unclear whether Abedi and his brother were on the frontlines.

The 22-year-old had a “relatively minor” criminal record as a teenager but was not known to police for holding extremist views, appearing on police logs in 2012 over offences of theft, receiving stolen goods and assault.

Abedi’s acquaintances said he was previously linked to gangs, smoked cannabis and drank but came back from Libya a “completely different guy” six years ago and “suddenly turned religious”.

The same transformation has been documented in many of Europe’s deadliest terrorists, including petty criminals and drug dealers in the Isis “super cell” behind the Paris and Brussels attacks.

Bomber Salman Abedi pictured moments before Manchester Arena massacre

Abedi expressed extremist sentiments, hung a black Islamist flag from his home, reportedly told friends at college “being a suicide bomber was okay” and began referring to Brits as “infidels” who were “unjust to Arabs”.

His family claimed they warned authorities he was “dangerous”, moving him and his younger brother to Libya in April to keep a closer eye, months after Abedi dropped out of his business degree at Salford University.

Inconsistencies have emerged in original accounts given by community leaders, who said two people had raised concerns about Abedi with separate calls to an anti-terror hotline.

But the Metropolitan Police said it had so far found no record of any calls to the dedicated line about Abedi.

He was known to MI5, which has launched an internal review amid reports it was warned about Abedi's plans, but was not known to Prevent, the Government's voluntary counter-radicalisation scheme.

Police are attempting to piece together the bomber's movements from when he flew back from Libya on 18 May and the attack four days later.

New CCTV images have been released showing Abedi moving around Manchester during the period, sometimes carrying a blue suitcase investigators also want to trace.

Anyone with information is asked to call the anti-terror hotline anonymously on 0800 789321 or send images and footage to police by visiting the UK Police Image Appeal website.

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