United Kingdom

The Libyan network 'linked to the Manchester Arena attack plot'

A Libyan network operating drugs rackets in north-west England are reportedly being linked to the Isis-inspired Manchester Arena terror atrocity in May 2017 which killed 22 innocent people. 

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) suspect that suicide bomber Salman Abedi, the son of Libyan dissidents who sought to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi and replace his regime with an Islamic government, had help with preparations for the attack at the Ariana Grande concert, the Sunday Times reports.

An investigation by the paper alleges that members of the network received numerous calls from Salman days before the bombing, and were caught on CCTV checking a car packed with explosives. One was allegedly caught on camera footage 'wiping down' the car the day after the bombing. 

At least seven drug dealers are currently under investigation by police in connection with the bombing, the Sunday Times reports. However, one of the suspects was allegedly allowed to fly out of Britain to Libya shortly after the bombing, despite being under investigation. 

And three suspects are reportedly refusing to appear as witnesses at the ongoing public inquiry into the attack for fear they will 'incriminate' themselves, with one of these allegedly connected to the Libyan network. Many of its members are thought to be the children of dissidents who fled Gaddafi's regime in the 1990s, and became attracted to the influence of Isis as its power grew during the war in Syria.

Salman himself is said to have joined the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and fought against Gaddafi, aged 16, alongside his father in the Arab Spring during school holidays before returning to Britain.

It comes amid growing concerns that a wider network behind the attack is evading justice, after just one person - Salman's younger brother Hashem Abedi, has been charged for the atrocity so far. Hashem was sentenced to a minimum jail term of 55 years last year at the Old Bailey.  

When the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was asked if it had only ever received one full file asking for a charging decision on a Manchester Arena bombing suspect, a spokesperson told MailOnline: 'Our lawyers have worked closely with the investigation team since the horrific attack at Manchester Arena, giving advice on all of the suspects arrested and making a charging decision on Hashem Abedi.  

'We continue to work closely with the investigation team, ready to make charging decisions on any suspects if requested to by Greater Manchester Police.' 

When MailOnline asked GMP if a suspect had been allowed to fly to Libya while under investigation, and how many people are being investigated in relation to the bombing, a spokesperson said: 'The investigation continues to establish if anyone else was involved in the arena attack. 

'It would not be appropriate to comment upon any other investigations that may or may not be being conducted. A thorough investigation was conducted in the search for the truth. 

Those individuals who were suspected to have been involved were arrested or interviewed under caution if it was both possible and appropriate to do so. The investigation team are keen to identify and speak to anyone who may have been in contact with Salman Abedi and Hashem Abedi and we will continue to follow up any remaining or new reasonable lines of enquiry to determine if anyone else assisted them.'  

Handout photo issued by Greater Manchester Police of the CCTV image of Salman Abedi at Victoria Station making his way to Manchester Arena on May 22, 2017

Handout photo taken from the Twitter feed of Greater Manchester Police of a CCTV still of a white Nissan Micra used by Salman, the bomber in the Manchester Arena terror attack

Police found DNA belonging to the father of Salman and Hashem (left), Ramadan (right), on different parts of the interior of the car. However, Ramadan has previously denied he or any family member were involved

Later in March, successful attempts were made to buy 55 litres of hydrogen peroxide. One of the bank accounts used allegedly belonged to Yahya Werfalli (left), a student and a childhood friend of the Abedis. some of the network allegedly visited the convicted terrorist recruiter Abdalraouf Abdallah (right) while he was in custody

The scene close to the Manchester Arena after the terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert

Timeline - How the Abedi brothers 'used friends and family in Manchester Arena bomb plot'  

January-April 2017 - Salman and Hashem allegedly use friends and family to buy sulphuric acid and hydrogen peroxide online.

These materials - chemicals used to make the explosive TATP - are delivered to Lindum Street, Rusholme, south Manchester.  

April 2, 2017 -  Salman and Abedi take the chemicals to a flat in the Somerton Court tower block in Blackley, north Manchester. 

They are mixed there and the bomb is created. A Nissan Micra is used to transport the materials. 

April 14-15, 2017 - The chemicals and other bomb-making paraphernalia are stored in the Micra and driven south to Devell House, an block of flats yards from Manchester's main hospitals.

Salman and Hashem fly to Libya with their parents, leaving the car in a parking bay outside the block.

April 15-May 15, 2017 - Police now suspect the car was 'minded' by a Libyan network in a Devell House flat.  

Elyas Elmehdi allegedly texts Ahmed Alzilitni. The messages are deleted but Alzilitni is seen on CCTV checking the door handle of the car. 

At one stage, Elmehdi receives a six-minute call from Salman in Libya.

May 18-19, 2017 - Salman returns from Libya, arriving at Manchester. He is caught on CCTV outside Devell House at 12.29pm, checking the Micra. 

May 19, 2017 - At Granby House, Salman builds the bomb. Three members of the drug gang have their phones traced to the Granby House area in the days before the attack.

The phone of a fourth man, Ahmed Taghdi, acquitted of being part of the gang, was traced to within 500m of Granby House the day before.

May 22, 2017 - Salman takes a taxi to Shudehill bus station in east Manchester and catches a tram to Victoria station, next to the arena where Ariana Grande is playing. 

He detonates the bomb, contained in his rucksack, at the City Room entrance at 10.31pm, killing 23 people including himself.

May 23, 2017 - As Theresa May raises the terror alert level to critical and police say they are hunting a 'network', Taghdi is caught on CCTV at Devell House checking on the Micra.  

The Sunday Times alleges that police suspected that a network based at Devell House, a block of flats in Rusholme, south Manchester, was 'minding' a car used to store explosive materials for the bomb for more than a month before the arena bombing. 

After the attack, one member of the network was allegedly seen rubbing one of the car doors in what is thought to be a possible attempt to clean away forensic evidence. 

Others were allegedly caught on CCTV repeatedly 'checking' the vehicle after receiving phone calls traced to Libya, while others' mobile phones were 'cell sited' close to a flat where Salman built his bomb. 

The newspaper alleges that none of the members of the Devell House group has been charged with any offences relating to terrorism. However, police told the inquiry last week that the inquiry into those members of the network is still 'active', while a separate task force has been charged with investigating the hold Libyan gangs have over Manchester's drug trade. 

One senior source in counter-terrorism policing in the north-west of England told the Sunday Times:  'There was a great deal of evidence relating to suspicious behaviour around a certain group of criminals in the lead-up [to] and after the Arena attack. 

'Those individuals have not been charged, but investigations into those members and their links to the attack are still very much active.'

The police investigation into the arena bombing, called Operation Manteline, found that Salman and Hashem obtained the chemicals for the construction of the bomb between January and April 2017.

The brothers lived in Fallowfield, south Manchester, part of an area nicknamed 'Little Tripoli' due to its Libyan population.

They used the bank accounts of associates to buy the hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide they needed to make the bomb, the Sunday Times reports. Together with acetone, commonly used as a paint dissolver, they manufactured triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, an unstable explosive material sensitive to detonation by friction, impact, heat or a spark.

The Sunday Times alleges the purchase of one litre of sulphuric acid, costing £30.21, was made via the Amazon account of 22-year-old cousin Alharth Forjani - who allegedly told police Hashem tricked him by saying it was for a 'car battery'.

According to the paper, five litres of sulphuric acid were bought two weeks later by a younger relative who cannot be named due to legal restrictions. Again, the relative reportedly claimed that Hashem told him it was for a car battery.

In March 2017, Mohammed Soliman, 24, who reportedly worked in a takeaway shop with Hashem, allegedly purchased 10 litres of sulphuric acid shortly after money was deposited into his account. Soliman is said to have fled the UK and is now thought to be living in Libya.

That same month, Zuhir Nassrat, 22, said to be another friend of the Abedi brothers, allegedly attempted to buy 15 litres of hydrogen peroxide. However, the Amazon sale reportedly failed because of insufficient funds. 

A day later, Nassrat allegedly tried to buy 10 litres of the same chemical. It failed again. Nassrat has also reportedly since fled Britain to Libya.

Later in March, successful attempts were made to buy 55 litres of hydrogen peroxide. One of the bank accounts used allegedly belonged to Yahya Werfalli, a student and a childhood friend of the Abedis. 

Werfalli, 25, claimed he thought he was taking part in a scam to make money. However, he was later sentenced for that fraud.

Investigators linked Hashem to one of the email addresses used to buy hydrogen peroxide. According to the Sunday Times, the Gmail address included Arabic words, which translated into English to: 'We have come to slaughter'.

The Sunday Times has reported that the chemicals were delivered a mile from the terrorists to an address in Lindum Street, Rusholme, but that the TATP was created in a tower block flat in Somerton Court, in Blackley, north Manchester.

Four weeks before the bombing, the Abedi brothers used an old white Nissan Micra to transport their batch of TATP from Somerton Court to the Devell House apartment block in Rusholme. 

The Micra also contained tin snips for shaping metal, blue plastic drums, a black plastic container, packs of screws and nails, a hacksaw, a hammer and a pair of pliers, the paper reports.    

Police found DNA belonging to Salman's father Ramadan on different parts of the interior of the car. However, Ramadan has previously denied he or any family member were involved, saying in 2017: 'We don't believe in killing innocents. This is not us.' 

DNA belonging to Ishmale Abedi, Salman's older brother, was also found on a hammer in the boot. Ishmale denies any involvement in the plot and is currently living in a new house with his wife and child.

Ishmale is refusing to co-operate with the public inquiry into the bombing, telling the Sunday Times: 'I don't want to be seen because obviously the neighbours don't know who I am or what's going on. It's not safe for me. I've been instructed by the police not to talk to anyone.'

The Nissan Micra was parked in the car park of Devell House between April 15 and May 18 - when Salman and Hashem travelled to Libya with their parents.

According to the Sunday Times, Operation Manteline obtained CCTV evidence showing members of a Libyan network repeatedly checking on the car. Though the individuals claimed they thought there were drugs in the vehicle, police reportedly had their doubts.  

Undated handout photo issued by the Manchester Arena Inquiry of Salman Abedi

DNA belonging to Ishmale Abedi (left), Salman's older brother, was also found on a hammer in the boot of the car. Ishmale denies any involvement in the plot. Right, undated photo of Hashem Abedi

Handout photo taken from the Twitter feed of Greater Manchester Police of a CCTV still of Salman Abedi, the bomber in the Manchester Arena terror attack

The scene close to the Manchester Arena after the terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert

Manchester's 'Little Tripoli': How Libyan network in north-west England includes Gaddafi exiles who 'supported Isis as terror group grew in power in Syrian war'

The Abedi brothers lived in Fallowfield, south Manchester, part of an area nicknamed 'Little Tripoli' due to its Libyan population. 

Their parents Ramadan Abedi and Samia Tabbal, escaped Libya after fighting against Muammar Gaddafi's regime in the 1990s.

Ramadan was reportedly part of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which sought to overthrow the Gaddafi government and replace it with an Islamic regime.

Ramadan and Samia were just some of many Libyan dissidents who were granted refuge in Britain and headed to south Manchester, where the 'Little Tripoli' community grew.  

The Abedis attended Didsbury mosque, where sermons allegedly calling for 'armed jihad' were delivered six months before the bombing. The mosque later denied the allegation and called the BBC's report misleading. 

When Gaddafi's hold on power weakened during the Arab Spring of 2010-11, many Libyan expats living in Manchester returned to the North African country to fight the regime. It is during this time that Salman allegedly fought against Gaddafi with hsi father at 16 during school holidays. 

The fighters returned to the UK and turned to jihadism and terrorism as Isis' influence grew. Many of the Libyan dissidents would become supporters. 

According to Salman's sister Jomana, Abedi carried out the Arena attack allegedly in anger at the US for dropping bombs on children in Syria.

Investigators allegedly identified a drugs gang known as the Devell House group operating from the block, whose members included Elyas Elmehdi and Ahmed Alzilitni.

The paper reports that some of the network had visited the convicted terrorist recruiter Abdalraouf Abdallah while he was in custody at Belmarsh prison and Altcourse prison.  

Abdallah was allegedly praised by some in the Libyan diaspora in Manchester after being left paraplegic while fighting in Libya in 2011, and is also suspected of radicalising the Abedis. 

Elmehdi was arrested and interviewed five times and admitted allowing Salman to park the car at Devell House as a 'favour', the Sunday Times reports.

On May 7, Elmehdi reportedly sent a series of text messages to Alzilitni which were deleted after they were sent. Following the exchange, Alzilitni was caught on CCTV checking the door handle of the Nissan Micra.

The paper reports that before Salman's return to the UK on May 18, Elmehdi received a phone call from Salman lasting about six minutes. After that call, Elmehdi rang Alzilitni, and then one of his associates was seen checking the Micra. 

Alzilitni was reportedly subsequently seen on CCTV with the Micra the day before the bombing and spent some time walking around it 

Later that day, Elmehdi was allegedly seen peering into the Micra's passenger window, actions that contradicted the account he gave to GMP during an interview. He then fled to Libya before he could be questioned further. 

Three days after the bombing, Alzilitni was allegedly seen again with the Micra and was viewed wiping down the door frame.

In 2019, Elmehdi was convicted in his absence of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, along with Alzilitni and a third man. Though police suspect that Elmehdi and Alzilitni were knowing participants in the plot, they deny any knowledge.  

Five days before the attack, Salman returned to the UK from Libya and left the airport for Devell House and the Micra. He was caught on CCTV outside the block, opening the boot, checking the explosive materials inside and closing it.  

Salman then arranged access to a new rental property at Granby House - the fourth and final address used for the plot and where Salman constructed the bomb. He later returned to the Micra with a suitcase and loaded up the items, including the TATP.

Police were reportedly able to track the movements of the Devell House network using  mobile phone 'cell site' data. At least three people connected to Devell House were allegedly found in the area of Granby House, where Salman was building his bomb. 

One of these was allegedly Alzilitni, while the mobile phone of a second man, Ahmed Taghdi, was reportedly tracked to within 500 metres of Granby House the day before the attack. 

Taghdi, who had received military training in Libya, also helped Salman buy the Micra.

The Sunday Times reports that the security services had evidence that Taghdi and Salman had previously visited Abdallah in prison, while mobile phone analysis allegedly showed that Taghdi was in contact with the Abedi brothers while they were in Libya before the bombing.

Police also allegedly found phones and a laptop connected to Taghdi that contained 'extensive Isis-related material'. However, Taghdi was never charged with terror offences and has denied all knowledge of a bomb plot.

A third man allegedly in the vicinity of Granby House was Elyas Blidi, whose mobile phone was pinpointed close to the flats three days before the attack. 

However, Blidi was charged but found not guilty of being part of a drugs conspiracy and has allegedly not been charged with terror offences. Though he was allegedly interviewed four times by counter-terrorism police, he has reportedly denied all knowledge of the plot.

The Sunday Times reports that GMP's Xcalibre task force is investigating the supply of Class A drugs by Libyan gangs, many of whose members are now suspected of having links to terrorism. 

Ishmale Abedi, Abdallah and Taghdi have been called later this year to give evidence to the public inquiry into the bombing. However, all three have allegedly refused to help the inquiry.  

The inquiry's legal team is now said to be exploring options to compel the three men to provide evidence or risk fines or prison.

Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Barraclough told the Sunday Times that Taghdi's involvement in his inquiry had been 'significant' and 'relevant', and said he would be the subject of periodic police reviews.

He added that detectives are seeking to question five people in connection with the bombing, including Salman's parents and Elmehdi.

'The investigation continues to establish if anyone else was involved in the Arena attack,' Barraclough said. 'It would not be appropriate to comment upon any other investigations that may or may not be being conducted.' 

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