Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

Abedi Was Inspired by Gangs of Moss Side and Wanted to Be a Hardman

Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

Abedi Was Inspired by Gangs of Moss Side and Wanted to Be a Hardman

Article excerpt

In the first instalment of our special investigation yesterday, the M.E.N. looked at the links between Manchester bomber Salman Abedi's family and al-Qaeda operatives based in Manchester. Today, we look at how the fall of a dictator more than 3,000 miles away has impacted on the citizens of our city - and the network of ISIS sympathisers in south Manchester. Jihadist movement grew grew on city streets

THE Arab Spring was a wave of uprisings against regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, beginning with protests in Tunisia in late December 2010. Within weeks the president of that country had been ousted.

The first challenge to Colonel Gaddafi's authority in Libya was in Benghazi in 2011.

After violent crackdowns on peaceful protestors by the regime, including the shootings of scores of unarmed demonstrators, armed rebels took control of the city.

Colonel Gaddafi's son, Saif, condemned the protests as the work of Libyans in the West - singling out the Manchester community in a state TV diatribe.

The men of Manchester's Libyan dissident community considered themselves leaders in exile, and saw their chance to overthrow Gaddafi, take up government positions, and refashion Libyan society in their image. Calling themselves the Manchester Fighters, they rushed to join the insurgency.

As the conflict unfolded, a number of Mancunians hit the headlines. The imam at Didsbury Mosque, Mustafa Graf, ended up being captured in the north African country by pro-Gaddafi forces. Another Manchester Libyan, from Cheetham Hill, was also seized by the regime's men, accused of fundraising for the LIFG, the dissident group Salman Abedi's father had belonged to.

Events in Libya, like the rest of the Arab Spring, were welcomed by Western observers and pro-democracy campaigners as a new dawn for the region.

But others - including Colonel Gaddafi himself - claimed other forces were gearing up to exploit the collapse of autocracy.

Days after the Libyan Revolution began, Colonel Gaddafi told Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had pursued a policy of rapprochement towards him, that his removal would benefit jihadis and have dire consequences for the West.

Transcripts released by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee reveal Gaddafi told Blair in two February 2011 phone calls: "They (jihadis) want to control the Mediterranean and then they will attack Europe... The story is simply this: An organisation has laid down sleeping cells in north Africa, called the al-Qaeda organisation in north Africa. The sleeping cells in Libya are similar to dormant cells in America before 9/11."

NATO and David Cameron's government would back the rebels against Gaddafi, intervening with air strikes on the basis they were needed to protect civilians in the rebel stronghold Benghazi from being massacred. Liam Fox, then defence secretary, has since admitted that the 'disparate' nature of the rebels meant 'there was a view' there would be some 'extremist elements.' .

Indeed, al-Qaeda welcomed developments in Libya. In a letter to Osama Bin Laden himself, Atiyah Abd al Rahman, senior al-Qaeda commander and founder member of the LIFG, wrote: "Brothers from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and others are out of jail. There has been an active Jihadist Islamic renaissance underway in Eastern Libya for some time, just waiting for this kind of opportunity."

AFTER his father's return to Libya, Salman Abedi hung around with a clique of youngsters from first and second generation refugee backgrounds. Libyans and Somalians, they sought their own identity on the streets of south Manchester.

Inspired by the mythology of the Moss Side gangs that started in the 1980s against the backdrop of joblessness, institutional racism and crack cocaine, the refugee boys ¦¦CONTINUED ON PAGE 8 he had grown up with drifted into crime, short-fused Abedi sought a reputation as a hardman, with one friend describing him as someone who 'would have fights for no reason'. …

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