Terrorist 'groomer' will refuse to answer questions from Manchester Arena families

Abdalraouf Abdallah is a convicted terrorist recruiter who was in contact with Salman Abedi before he carried out the Manchester Arena attack

A terrorist recruiter who it is claimed 'groomed' the Manchester Arena bomber will refuse to answer questions if he is forced to give evidence to the inquiry.

Lawyers for Abdalraouf Abdallah said 'dragging him along…to simply have questions hurled at him, would serve no purpose'.

The public inquiry heard the convicted terrorist is said to have evidence of 'a high degree of potential relevance' in relation to the radicalisation of the Manchester bomber Salman Abedi and the planning and preparation for the Arena bomb attack.

Manchester bomber Salman Abedi had been in regular contact with the convicted terrorist recruiter

He was in contact with Salman Abedi for three years before the bombing and Abedi visited him twice in prison and spoke to him on an illicit mobile phone on the day he took delivery of chemicals for his bomb.

Dr Matthew Wilkinson, an expert on radicalisation instructed by the inquiry, believes Abdallah is responsible for, 'grooming Salman Abedi into the violent Islamist extremist world view,' the inquiry was told.

Pete Weatherby QC, for the families of the victims, said they want to ask him questions and 'everything should be done' to obtain his evidence, when hearings begin on Abedi's radicalisation next week. 

However, Rajiv Menon QC, told a hearing that Abdullah did not groom or radicalise Abedi, had no involvement in the planning or preparation of the terrorist attack, and might self-harm or commit suicide if he is called to give evidence.

He described the claims Abdallah had 'groomed' Abedi as 'preposterous' and 'completely without evidence.'

He insisted the convicted terrorist, who is still in jail, will refuse to answer any questions on the grounds that he might incriminate himself.

Abdalraouf Abdallah was recalled to prison in January after breaching his licence

Abdallah, from the Moss Side area of Manchester, was injured fighting in Libya and now uses a wheelchair.

In July 2016, he was convicted of helping his brother and two other men join ISIS in Syria in July 2014.He was released at the end of his five-and-a-half year extended sentence last November, but returned to prison in January after breaching his licence conditions and is now in Wakefield jail.

Rajiv Menon QC, Barrister for Abdalraouf Abdallah Credit: Garden Court Chambers

Mr Menon told a hearing: "Mr Abdallah will not be answering questions on legal advice and so the spectacle will serve no useful purpose and will merely dehumanise and humiliate him and frustrate everybody else present who was wanting him to answer the questions. 

"We ask what is gained by going through that process?"

He said the refusal to incriminate was a 'fundamental right in our democratic society, to protect us all - guilty and innocent.'

"The privilege against self-incrimination is not some kind of shield, behind which the guilty can hide the privilege against self-incrimination. It's for you, it's for me, it's for all of us, whether guilty or innocent," he added.

 "And the notion that only those who are guilty and have something to hide invoke the privilege against self-incrimination is misconceived."

Abdallah can refuse to answer questions if there is a 'real and appreciable risk' that an answer may be used against him in criminal proceedings.

The privilege also extends to questions that might lead to a 'line of inquiry, which might form a significant step in the chain of evidence required for prosecution,' Mr Menon said.

"That's a complicated, nuanced question, upon which he is going to require legal advice, quite literally on a question by question basis," his barrister said.

"Once he is in the witness box, he can either respond to every question saying 'I am exercising my right to silence or I'm invoking my privilege against self-incrimination on legal advice', or he can just sit down and say absolutely nothing."

Mr Menon said there was 'nothing, with all due respect, that you can do, other than to consider a prosecution for failing without reasonable excuse to give evidence.'

Sir John Saunders QC, the inquiry chairman, questioned why Abdallah would refuse to answer questions when he claims he 'actually had nothing to do with it.'

"He can't incriminate himself because he had nothing to do with it and he's entirely innocent," Sir John said.

But Mr Menon insisted: "My job is to ensure that my client's interests are protected and that he's not wrongly prosecuted for an act of mass murder.

"If, at the end of the day, the position remains as it currently is, then we are advising a blanket approach to this matter.

 "Nobody can force him to answer questions. I think it is blindingly obvious that dragging him, either physically or metaphorically, to a video room at Wakefield prison in this way, will serve no useful purpose."

Dr John Kent, a consultant forensic psychiatrist, instructed by the inquiry, has interviewed Abdallah twice in September this year.

He told the inquiry, he had self harmed a number of times and said he had 'felt a lot of people - including the government, police and MI5 - want him dead' and they were trying hard to make his life difficult and he wanted to 'give them what they wanted.'

 He was said to have 'fairly typical symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which manifested itself primarily in flashbacks, reliving events, nightmares, and mood changes.' 

Mr Menon said that counter-terrorism police had previously interviewed his client under caution as a suspect in the Arena attack and the following year, last summer, he was asked "similar if not identical questions" in prison by inquiry officials.

Mr Menon said: "In those circumstances he felt, and we say justifiably so, that he was being treated as a suspect both by the police and the inquiry."

He said Dr Wilkinson's expert report which concluded Abdallah groomed Abedi and was 'effectively a co-conspirator' in the Arena attack was a 'preposterous suggestion speculated at best without any proper evidence'.

"The families in their respective legal submissions for today's hearing have assumed already, before Mr Abdallah has said a word, that he was a co-conspirator and he radicalised Salman Abedi." 

Sir John Saunders said he will make a ruling 'as soon as possible' on whether Abdallah should be compelled to attend next week, either in person or by prison video link.