Manchester Arena Inquiry: Didsbury Mosque 'failed' to combat and prevent radicalisation

Didsbury mosque Credit: PA

The families of the Manchester Arena victims say Didsbury mosque 'failed' to prevent radicalisation among some of its congregation before the attack.

It comes as former Imam Mohammed El-Saeti said threats were made against his life and he was dismissed from his post in 2020 after raising concerns about extremist groups meeting at the mosque.

The inquiry into the May 2017 terror attack that killed 22 people and injured hundreds was told the sermon also prompted a petition calling for his dismissal, with signatories including the bomber's brothers Hashem and Ismail.

The former Imam told the inquiry that bomber Salman Abedi gave him "hateful" looks after a sermon he gave opposing ISIS.

He said an "inciteful" Facebook message by Abedi's father, Ramadan, was also posted in which he urged worshippers to "isolate" him to avoid the mosque being closed by the UK Government.

A petition was also launched against him saying his sermon had "wrongly attacked the pious revolutionaries and accused them of terrorism and extremism."

The brothers of the Manchester bomber, Ismail Abedi and Hashem Abedi, had both signed it.

Giving evidence on Wednesday, 24 November, Mr El-Saeiti said mosque trustees admonished him for talking about politics and warned him threats had been made to harm him if he returned to the pulpit.

Ramadan Abedi

He said: "I was speaking about the sanctity of human life. So I didn't mention political groups.

"I'm not affiliated with any political party, I was just basically combatting terrorism and extremism."

He said he named IS, al-Qaeda and also Libyan-based Islamist militia groups Ansar al-Sharia and the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, who he referred to as "dogs of hellfire".

Salman Abedi

Mr El-Saeiti said, as far as he knew, the majority of Libyans who attended the mosque, also known as the Manchester Islamic Centre, were anti-Colonel Gaddafi, the late deposed leader.

He said sympathisers of terrorist groups in Benghazi were among the congregation.

He told the inquiry he raised concerns about regular "secret meetings" of Libyans supporting such extreme organisations held at the mosque throughout 2015 and 2016, which he said were sanctioned by trustees.

The 22 victims of the Manchester Arena attack.

A statement from the families of the Manchester Arena attack victims commended El-Saeti's actions and said: "We find it deeply troubling that his efforts were rubbished by the leadership of the Mosque both at the time and this week.

“When it comes to combating terrorism and terrorist ideology, there can be no complacency and no turning a blind eye."

It continued: "We urge all communities around the country to heed the lessons of this week's evidence, to redouble efforts to combat extremism of all kinds, and to be clear and vocal in doing so."

Mosque chairman Fawzi Haffar. Credit: PA`

Mosque chairman Fawzi Haffar has denied meetings took place and labelled Mr El-Saeiti "a liar" who he said held a grudge after he was made redundant.

Mr Haffar said Didsbury Mosque was "middle of the road, mainstream" and rejected any suggestion it was not doing enough to address whether members of its congregation were being radicalised.

The inquiry has heard Ismail Abedi, 28, helped in classes at Didsbury Mosque with Koran reading in Arabic between February 2014 and July 2017, while during that time in possession of "significant" IS-mindset material on his electronic devices.

Ismail Abedi

In August, Ismail was allowed to leave the UK - to the "horror" of bereaved families - a month after he was summonsed to give evidence to the inquiry.

Ramadan Abedi regularly performed the call to prayer at the mosque because of his "pleasant voice" and his wife, Samia Tabbel, worked as a teacher there, the inquiry has heard. Both are currently in Libya and remain suspects in the bombing.

The inquiry continues.