, Manchester, United Kingdom, May 25 – Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi was a British-born university dropout with Libyan jihadi links who, according to his sister, may have sought revenge for the deaths of Muslim children.
Abedi was named by British authorities the day after he detonated a bomb packed with nuts and screws at the Manchester Arena, killing 22 people and maiming dozens more at a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande.
Born in Britain to a devoutly Muslim Libyan family, Abedi was an “isolated, quiet, reserved individual” according to Mohamed Fadil, a spokesman for the Libyan community in Manchester.
“Even when he came to mosque, he just kept to himself and quickly left. His friends are not in the Libyan community,” Fadil told AFP, adding that locals said Abedi had a history of drinking and smoking cannabis.
Abdullah Muhsin Norris, 70, told Sky News that Abedi was ejected from his mosque in Moss Side two months ago after he had tried to hide in the mosque library to read religious books overnight.
“I was very annoyed with him,” Norris said, adding that worshippers at his mosque were forbidden to engage in conversations or preaching about politics.
But the image of the awkward misfit stands in contrast to the picture which has emerged of the suicide bomber in recent days in British media of a man with links both to Islamist fighters in Libya and an Islamic State group recruiter.
The Wall Street Journal cited a family friend saying that Abedi had travelled to Libya with his father in 2011 to join the Tripoli Brigade militia as it battled the regime of Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
He returned to Britain in 2014 with his mother, the friend said.
Abedi was known to British intelligence services, interior minister Amber Rudd said this week, without giving further details.
– Islamic State link –
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Abedi had “likely” been to Syria after Libya, citing information provided by British intelligence services to their counterparts in Paris.
“In any case, the links with Daesh are proven,” Collomb said, using another term for the Islamic State jihadist group which claimed responsibility for the Manchester Arena attack.
Links have also emerged between Abedi and a Manchester terror cell, according to counter-terrorism sources cited by Sky News television.
Investigators found a “significant” link between Abedi and Raphael Hostey, a young fellow Mancunian who allegedly recruited IS members before reportedly being killed in a drone strike in Syria last year.
Sky News said the two Islamists worshipped at Didsbury Mosque in the leafy Manchester suburbs, where trustees on Wednesday decried the “horrific atrocity” at the arena and denied any links to extremism.
Abedi’s father Ramadan had sometimes performed the call to prayer at the mosque and his brother Ismael had been a volunteer.
However, Mohammed Saeed, a senior figure from the mosque, told The Guardian newspaper that when he once gave a sermon denouncing terror, Abedi stared him down.
“Salman showed me a face of hate after that sermon,” Mohammed Saeed said of the 2015 encounter. “He was showing me hatred.”
– ‘He wanted revenge’ –
Libya arrested Abedi’s father Ramadan and younger brother Hashem, who was also born in Britain, a relative and security sources said on Wednesday.
Ahmed bin Salem, a spokesman for the Deterrence Force, which supports Libya’s UN-backed unity government, said Hashem Abedi was aware of his brother’s attack plan and both were members of IS.
The relative said Salman had travelled to Manchester from Libya four days before the bombing.
“His father wanted his son to stay in Libya but Salman insisted on going to Manchester.”
While the precise details of when and how Salman Abedi decided to turn to violent extremist remain unknown, his sister said he was loving but driven by a desire for revenge.
“I think he saw children — Muslim children — dying everywhere, and wanted revenge. He saw the explosives America drops on children in Syria, and he wanted revenge,” said Jomana Abedi, quoted by The Wall Street Journal.
Such anger was reportedly heightened when one of his friends, 18-year-old Abdul Wahab Hafidah, was murdered in the Moss Side area of Manchester a year ago.
“I remember Salman at his funeral vowing revenge,” the family friend told the Journal.
Before carrying out the deadly attack at Manchester Arena, Abedi had joined Manchester’s huge student population.
The University of Salford confirmed Abedi had studied there but a source told the Press Association news agency he dropped out two years into a business and management degree.