Manchester, United Kingdom, May 23 – Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people in an attack in Manchester on Monday, was a university dropout with “proven” links to the Islamic State group, according to France’s interior minister.
Born to a devoutly Muslim Libyan family in Britain’s third biggest city, officials said he was known to British security services and the Financial Times reported he had turned to radical Islam.
Abedi, 22, worshipped at a mosque in a leafy Manchester suburb popular with students.
His father was reportedly a well-known figure who sometimes performed the call to prayer.
Abedi “grew up in Britain and then suddenly, after a trip to Libya and then likely to Syria, became radicalised and decided to carry out this attack”, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told BFMTV.
He said it was “possible” that Abedi had had assistance from other people, adding that his links with the Islamic State group which claimed responsibility for the carnage “are proven”.
Abedi was named by British police on Tuesday, a day after the attack outside a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande.
“The perpetrator was Salman Ramadan Abedi, who was born and brought up in Britain,” Prime Minister Theresa May said in a televised address from her Downing Street residence, condemning his actions as “callous and cowardly”.
Interior minister Amber Rudd said he had been known to intelligence services, without going into detail.
– Suburban upbringing –
Abedi’s family have lived in the Fallowfield area of south Manchester for at least 10 years, according to The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Armed police raided an address in the modestly well-to-do area on Tuesday, carrying out a controlled explosion to gain entry.
A 23-year-old man was also arrested in the south of the city in connection with the attack. Three more men were arrested in the area on Wednesday.
Fallowfield resident Peter Jones, 53, described the neighbourhood as “quiet and safe”.
Jones told AFP he was “shocked” and “surprised” when he heard that the suspect was from there.
Media reports said Abedi’s parents fled Libya to escape the regime of former dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Around 16,000 Libyans live in Britain and Manchester is home to the largest community, according to the BBC. It was a focus of celebrations when the Kadhafi regime fell in 2011.
Reports said Abedi was the second youngest of four children, including another two sons and one daughter.
One member of Manchester’s Libyan community told The Guardian newspaper: “He was such a quiet boy, always very respectful towards me.
“His brother Ismael is outgoing, but Salman was very quiet. He is such an unlikely person to have done this.”
– ‘Showing me hatred’ –
Abedi’s family were closely linked to the Didsbury Mosque, a Victorian former Methodist chapel in a leafy suburb that was bought in 1967 by donors from the Syrian community.
His father Ramadan had sometimes performed the call to prayer and his brother Ismael had been a volunteer.
One senior figure from the mosque however, Mohammed Saeed, told The Guardian 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.”
Outside the mosque on Wednesday, 57-year-old worshipper Azher Mahmood said they were opposed to any kind of extremism.
“They’re opposite, they’re against this sort of stuff. They’re not radicals,” he said.
“How he got radicalised I don’t know.”
Abedi began studying business and management at Salford University in Manchester in 2014, a source told the Press Association news agency, but he dropped out after two years and did not complete his degree.
He did not live in university accommodation, had not been in any trouble at the university, was not on any radar for pastoral or social care and was not known to have participated in any university societies.
It is understood Abedi never met with the university’s resident imam.