A terror convict friend of Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi has told the public inquiry into the atrocity that the killing of 22 innocents is still ‘pursuing me’.
Abdalraouf Abdallah, 28, from Moss Side, said he was sitting behind bars at the 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 slaughter, he said he was ‘crying, confused and shocked’.
He said armed jihad and martyrdom were allowed in Islam, but he insisted on ‘killing innocent people’ as part of a suicide attack was banned.
Abdallah was arrested in November 2014 and charged with helping others commit terrorist acts by facilitating travel and raising money to enable various others to take part in the civil war in Syria.
In May 2016, he was convicted and sentenced to nine and a half years of extended, determined sentence. He remains behind bars, and despite his conviction and verdict, he continues to deny that he was a recruiter of Islamic State.
A commission of inquiry commissioned in radicalization, Dr. Matthew Wilkinson, believes that Abdallah was responsible for ‘grooming Salman Abedi into the violent, Islamist, extremist worldview’.
As the independent investigation continued today (Thursday), its chairman Sir John Saunders asked the witness if he had any suspicion that Salman Abedi could become a suicide bomber.
Abdallah told the inquest: “No, no way. None of my friends, anyone, had any idea what was going on in Salman’s head. When that happened, I heard it on the radio in jail and I called my friend. Elyas.
“I cried, confused and shocked and ‘what the hell happened there?” I thought he was in Libya. He said it’s true, it’s him.
“What happened to Salman, it’s something I can never ever take it out of my mind. It haunts me until now because he’s my friend and the Salman I knew he had never talked about or done. something awful that way. “
Asked by Sir John what had changed that enabled Salman Abedi to kill 22 people, Abdallah said: “The truth of the matter is that I do not really know. I have been convicted and put in jail and I was busy with my life.
“I’ve seen him twice after my sentence in prison. I called him a couple of times. He only answered twice. That’s all I know.
“After that happened, I called my friends and all, Elyas. I said ‘what the hell happened there? What was he doing?'”
Abdallah later added: “It haunts me, all these questions are still going through my head. Why? When? How come? Because he was just normal.”
Abdallah, who was paralyzed from the waist down after being wounded in 2011 during the uprising in Libya, spoke from a wheelchair in the witness stand in court.
Abedi, who murdered 22 people and wounded several hundred after detonating a backpack in the Arena after an Ariana Grande concert on May 22, 2017, visited Abdallah in prison in February 2015 while awaiting trial, and again after he had been jailed in January 2017, four months before the bombing.
Manchester-born Abdallah, who has a Libyan father, used an ‘illegal’ mobile phone while in jail in early 2017 to try to call Abedi, but has insisted he had nothing to do with the attack or the radicalization of the bomber.
Abdallah was asked what happened when Salman Abedi and a joint Libyan heritage friend Ahmed Taghdi visited him at HMP Belmarsh on February 25, 2016.
“They came to see how I feel, what’s going on, how’s imprisoned, how’s your health? Ordinary small talk, this and that,” Abdallah said.
The investigation heard that Abdallah was transferred from HMP Belmarsh to HMP Altcourse on December 6, 2017, where he had access to a jail phone that was in his cell from morning to 10pm.
The witness accepted that he also had the use of an ‘illegal telephone’.
The investigation heard that Abdallah used the illegal phone to call Salman Abedi’s number for four minutes and 28 seconds on January 16, 2017. He said the couple was involved in ‘normal chit chat’.
The illegal device was also used to ring Salman Abedi’s phone for four minutes and 17 seconds on January 24, 2017.
Abdallah denied that he used the illegal device instead of the legitimate prison phone he also had access to because he did not want people to listen to what was being said.
He denied by chance that the calls came on days when Salman Abedi and his imprisoned accomplice, Brother Hashem, used a contact to pick up bomb chemicals and have those chemicals delivered.
Abdallah was told that there is evidence that Salman Abedi in 2015/16 became more religious. He said he ‘saw the good side of him and he stopped drinking and the drugs and everything and he started praying’.
The witness said he did not dress differently, but during Friday prayers he would wear the Libyan version of “our cultural attire”.
Abdallah said it was Abedis’ mother who had told him and told him “you have to grow up and stop this shit life”.
The witness said he remembered praising Salman Abedi for this change.
Investigating lawyer Paul Greaney QC said: “Did you know before May 2, 2017, that Salman Abedi intended an attack on Manchester Arena or anywhere?”
Abdallah: “No, not at all.”
QC: “Did you suspect he intended an attack?”
QC: “I am a Muslim and I take my religion seriously when I swear by god. I swear by god that I had no knowledge (sic) or idea or anything about an attack that is actually horrible that happened in Manchester. “
QC: “Have you played a role in the radicalization of Salman Abedi or his extreme worldview?”
Abdallah: “Not at all.”
The witness added: “My view 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 he would take such an action.”
Earlier, Abdallah told the investigation that he was born in Peshawar, Pakistan, even though his father Nagah was born in Libya and his mother Samira was Algerian.
His family came to Britain as refugees, but he admitted that he was involved in fighting during the uprising against Col Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. He admitted that he was part of the Tripoli Brigade but was not a member of the affiliated Martyrs Brigade on February 17th.
His uncle, he said, was among 1,300 people killed in two hours in a Libyan prison.
Abdallah said he knew the Abedi brothers since they were “babies” and their older brother Ismail.
“We were good friends and went to the same school together, Arab school. Just little kids growing up together and having fun,” Abdallah said.
Their father Ramadan, he said, was a member of the Feb. 17 Martyrs Brigade.
He denied being an extremist, saying, “I am a normal Islamic Muslim person 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 ‘fight’.
The pressure further he said: “It is not extremist. It is self-defense jihad. It was about war. That was exactly what happened to us in Libya. It was jihad. It was self-defense jihad Gaddafi, the dictator and the same in Libya. Syria. “People came out and protested peacefully, and he killed them and killed them.”
He denied that suicide bombing was an acceptable form of jihad and said that it was forbidden in Islam. He said it was worse because ‘you are killing innocent people with you’.