Manchester Arena Attack: Salman Abedi's friends 'shocked' at revelation he was bomber

  • ITV Granada Reports correspondent Amy Welch reporting live from outside of the Manchester Arena Inquiry

A friend of the Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi was in "shock and disbelief" on learning he was the man responsible for killing 22 people.

The inquiry into the bombing also heard claims that in the year leading up to the attack, Abedi had distanced himself from his friendship group, becoming more religious - but had never expressed his extremist views.

Mohammed Alzoubare told the inquiry that on learning Abedi was the bomber in the attack on 23 May 2017, he was "shocked".

He said: "After the news said that it was Salman, we were shocked. Some of us were even questioning it because we thought he was still in Libya.

"At first there was disbelief, shock. That was the first reaction to be honest."

Mr Alzoubare said his father had been friends with Abedi's, and after moving to Manchester from London in about 2014 he got to know the 22-year-old better.

He said: "Initially we played football, probably twice, three times a week. We watched football at his. He used to cook, we used to eat at his. That's it."

Mohammed Alzoubare gave evidence at the Arena Inquiry as it hears evidence covering the background and radicalisation of Abedi.

Counsel to the inquiry Alasdair Henderson asked: "Did he ever say anything that made you think he had very strong views or even extremist views?"

Mr Alzoubare replied: "Not at the time, no."

Mr Henderson said: "Did you see any change in him between when you first moved up and 2016/2017?"

Mr Alzoubare said: "Maybe in that period he distanced himself from the lads a bit. He would probably go to the mosque more often, he would probably go to the gym while we were doing whatever we were doing."

Mr Henderson went on: "Did you get the sense that anyone was worried about him?"

The witness replied: "Not really, no."

The inquiry, sitting at Manchester Magistrates' Court, heard Mr Alzoubare received a phone call from Abedi in Libya, a week before the bombing, on 15 May.

Mr Alzoubare said: "He didn't say 'I'm going to do anything', it was a general conversation... but in hindsight I'm thinking this guy probably knows what he was doing. I'm a good friend, he was probably saying farewell."

Mr Alzoubare was also friends with convicted terrorist Abdulraouf Abdallah, who helped a number of men travel from Manchester to Syria to fight for so-called Islamic State.

He had visited Abdallah in prison on three occasions in 2017 - before the bombing - and on one such visit on 6 March Abedi was planning to join him but did not turn up.

Mr Alzoubare explained Abdallah was "family" as his cousin had married Abdallah's sister and it was a "sort of duty" to see him, with the purpose to "socialise" and "uplift his spirits".

The pair were also in regular phone contact in the weeks leading up to the bombing, including a 38-minute call from Abdallah on the afternoon of 22 May, but Mr Alzoubare said his friend "would call all the time because he was bored in prison".

The inquiry heard Mr Alzoubare was referred to the Government's Prevent counter-terror programme in 2016 due to fears he was being radicalised, although he said he was not aware at the time it was Prevent and thought he was undergoing "counselling".

He denied knowing anything about attempts to radicalise him.

His barrister Una Morris asked him: "Did you have anything at all to do with the atrocity at the Manchester Arena?"

Mr Alzoubare replied: "None whatsoever."

The inquiry heard a man named Ibrahim Khalifa lived briefly with Abedi and his younger brother, Hashem Abedi - jailed for life for aiding the Manchester Arena bombing - at their home in Elsmore Road, Fallowfield, in August 2015.

Mr Khalifa recalled an occasion when Salman Abedi made supportive comments towards IS while watching a television news programme.

He next saw the brothers in April 2017 and was "surprised" to see a notable change in their appearance as both had beards and wore traditional Islamic clothing.

The inquiry is currently hearing evidence covering the background and radicalisation of Abedi.