A convicted terrorist friend of Manchester Arena terrorist Salman Abedi has told the public inquiry into the atrocity that killing 22 innocents still “haunts” me.
Abdalraouf Abdallah, 28, from Moss Side, said he was behind bars at HMP Altcourse on Merseyside when he heard on the radio about the devastating attack in May 2017.
When he learned that his friend Salman Abedi was behind the massacre, he said “crying, confused and shocked.”
He said armed jihad and martyrdom are allowed in Islam, but he insisted that “killing innocent people” as part of a suicide bombing was prohibited.
Abdallah was arrested in November 2014 and charged with aiding others in committing terrorist acts by facilitating travel and raising money to enable several others to participate in Syria’s civil war.
In May 2016, he was found guilty and sentenced to nine and a half years of extended final sentence. He remains behind bars and, despite his conviction and sentence, continues to deny that he was an Islamic State recruiter.
An expert on radicalization on behalf of an investigation, Dr. Matthew Wilkinson, believes Abdallah was responsible for “seducing Salman Abedi into the violent, Islamist, extremist worldview.”
As the independent inquiry continued today (Thurs), the chairman, Sir John Saunders, asked the witness if he had any suspicions that Salman Abedi could become a suicide bomber.
Abdallah told the inquiry: “No, absolutely not. None of my friends, nobody, had any idea what was going on in Salman’s head. When it happened, I heard it on the radio in prison and called my friend Elyas.
“I was crying, confused and shocked and ‘what the hell happened?’ I thought he was in Libya, he said it’s true, he is.
“What happened to Salman, it’s something I can never get out of my mind. It’s haunted me until now because he’s my friend and the Salman I knew, he’d never talked about anything like this or done something so heinous. “
When asked by Sir John what had changed that allowed Salman Abedi to kill 22 people, Abdallah said: “The truth is I don’t really know. I was convicted and went to prison and I was busy with my life.
“I saw him twice after my prison sentence. I called him a few times. He only answered twice. That’s all I know.
“After what happened, I called my friends and everything, Elyas. I said ‘what the hell happened? What was he doing?'”
Later, Abdallah added: “It haunts me, all these questions are still going through my mind. Why? When? How come? Because he was just normal.”
Abdallah, who was paralyzed from the waist down after being injured during the 2011 Libyan uprising, spoke from a wheelchair on the witness stand in the courtroom.
Abedi, who killed 22 people and injured hundreds more after detonating a backpack device at the Arena following an Ariana Grande concert on May 22, 2017, visited Abdallah in prison in February 2015, while awaiting trial, and again after he was jailed in January 2017, four months before the bombing.
Manchester-born Abdallah, who has a Libyan father, used an ‘illegal’ mobile phone in early 2017 when he was in prison to try to call Abedi, but insists he had nothing to do with the attack or radicalising the attacker.
Abdallah was asked what happened when Salman Abedi and a mutual Libyan heritage friend Ahmed Taghdi visited him at HMP Belmarsh on 25 February 2016.
“They came to see how I’m doing, what’s going on, how’s prison, how’s your health? Normal talk, this and that,” Abdallah said.
The investigation revealed that on December 6, 2017, Abdallah had been transferred from HMP Belmarsh to HMP Altcourse, where he had access to a prison telephone that was in his cell from morning until 10 PM.
The witness admitted that he had also used an ‘illegal telephone’.
The investigation revealed that on January 16, 2017, Abdallah used the illegal telephone to call Salman Abedi’s number for four minutes and 28 seconds. He said the couple engaged in “normal chit chat.”
The illegal device was also used to call Salman Abedi’s phone for four minutes and 17 seconds on January 24, 2017.
Abdallah denied using the illegal device instead of the legitimate prison phone that he also had access to, because he didn’t want people to listen to what was being said.
He dismissed as coincidence that the calls were made on days when Salman Abedi, and his imprisoned co-conspirator, brother Hashem, used a contact to buy bomb chemicals and have those chemicals delivered.
Abdallah was told there is evidence that Salman Abedi became more religious in 2015/16. He said he saw the good side of him and stopped drinking and drugs and everything and started praying.
The witness said he did not dress differently, but during Friday prayers he would wear the Libyan version of ‘our culture clothes’.
Abdallah said it was Abedi’s mother who scolded him and told him ‘you must grow up and put an end to this worthless life’.
The witness said he remembered praising Salman Abedi for this change.
Counsel for the investigation, Paul Greaney, QC, said: “Before 2 May 2017, were you aware that Salman Abedi was planning an attack at the Manchester Arena or elsewhere?”
Abdallah: “No, not at all.”
QC: “Did you suspect he meant attack?”
QC: “I am a Muslim and I take my religion seriously when I swear to god. I swear to god, I had no knowledge (sic) or idea or anything about an attack that actually happened in Manchester.”
QC: “Have you played a part in Salman Abedi’s radicalization or his extreme worldview?”
Abdallah: “Not at all.”
The witness added: “My opinion was against the dictators of our countries and what they were doing in our countries. It is very hard to believe that it is him and that he would do such an act.”
Earlier, Abdallah told the inquiry that he was born in Peshawar, Pakistan, although his father Nagah was born in Libya and his mother Samira was Algerian.
His family came to the UK as refugees, but he admitted he was involved in the fighting during the 2011 uprising against Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. He admitted he was part of the Tripoli Brigade but not a member of the Associated Martyrs’ Brigade of 17 February.
His uncle, he said, was among 1,300 people killed in a prison in Libya over the span of two hours.
Abdallah said he knew the Abedi brothers as “babies” and their older brother Ismail.
“We were good friends and went to the same school, the Arab school. Just little kids growing up together and having fun,” Abdallah said.
Their father Ramadan, he said, was a member of the Martyrs’ Brigade on Feb. 17.
He denied being an extremist, saying, “I’m a normal Muslim Muslim living in the west.”
The witness said Islam allowed “armed jihad,” although he said people mistakenly “thought of terrorism” when they heard the word jihad. He said it actually meant “struggle.”
Pushed further, he said: “It’s not extremist. It’s self-defense jihad. It was about war. This was exactly what happened to us in Libya. It was jihad. It was self-defense jihad, Gaddafi, the dictator and the same in Syria. People came went out and protested peacefully and he killed them and killed them.”
He denied that suicide bombings were an acceptable form of jihad and said it was prohibited in Islam. He said it was worse because “you kill innocent people with you.”