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The Manchester Arena Inquiry has now concluded. The closure notice from the Inquiry Chairman is available here.

Volume Three: Radicalisation and Preventability
Volume Three: Radicalisation and Preventability (20pt version)

Influences on SA

Key findings

  • The Abedi family holds significant responsibility for the radicalisation of SA and HA. That includes their father Ramadan Abedi, mother Samia Tabbal and elder brother Ismail Abedi, each of whom has held extremist views. Their views influenced the development of SA’s and HA’s worldviews. It is also likely that SA and HA fed off each other’s ideas and radicalised each other.
  • Ramadan Abedi took his sons to Libya during the period of conflict. It is likely that SA and HA were involved in combat there. It is probable that SA and HA were radicalised in Libya to some extent and that they obtained some form of training or assistance in how to build a bomb in Libya, as well as counter‑ surveillance training.
  • SA’s worldview was also influenced by his peer group. Abdalraouf Abdallah was a key figure. Abdalraouf Abdallah was seriously injured while fighting in Libya as a member of the February 17th Martyrs Brigade. He returned to Manchester with a hero status among impressionable young men from a Muslim background who were susceptible to Islamic State propaganda. Abdalraouf Abdallah has held extremist views and been convicted of terrorism offences. He had a significant relationship with SA between 2014 and 2017 and had an important role in radicalising him.
  • Raphael Hostey, who travelled to Syria from Manchester to join Islamic State and was killed in a drone strike, is also likely to have been an influence on SA.

Family background

Ramadan Abedi and Samia Tabbal, who married in the early 1990s, arrived in the UK in 1993 and sought asylum on the basis that they faced persecution under the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.47 They eventually obtained refugee status. It has been widely reported that Ramadan Abedi was a member of, and remains linked to, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an Islamist organisation opposed to Colonel Gaddafi.48 The LIFG officially disbanded in 2010. It was removed from the US Department of State’s list of terrorist organisations in 2015.49

Five years after obtaining refugee status, Ramadan Abedi was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK. In 2007, Ramadan Abedi became a British citizen.50

Ramadan Abedi and Samia Tabbal had six children. Figure 43 shows Ramadan Abedi’s and Samia Tabbal’s children.
Figure 43: Ramadan Abedi’s and Samia Tabbal’s children

Ramadan Abedi’s and Samia Tabbal’s eldest, who was born in 1993, was named Ismail Abedi at birth. He had this name at the time of the Attack. Following the Attack, he changed it to Ishmale Ben Romdhan.51 I shall refer to him by the name he had at the time of the Attack.

On 31st December 1994, SA was born. He was 22 years old at the time of the Attack. In 1997, HA was born. He was 20 years old when the Attack was carried out.

Ramadan Abedi and Samia Tabbal had three more children, two girls and a boy, following the birth of HA.

21 Elsmore Road

Upon their arrival in the UK in 1993, Ramadan Abedi and Samia Tabbal lived briefly in London. After a couple of months, they moved to Manchester. On 21st October 2008, the Abedi family moved into 21 Elsmore Road, Fallowfield, Manchester. Fallowfield is in South Manchester. The family lived at that address until 21st September 2011. By this date, they had moved back to Libya. They remained in Libya for a period of nearly two years.52

On 23rd August 2013, the family returned to the UK. After several weeks of temporary accommodation, they moved back into 21 Elsmore Road on 1st November 2013.53

Between 2015 and 2017, Ramadan Abedi spent most of his time in Libya.54 In October 2016, Samia Tabbal is believed to have travelled to Libya. This left SA and HA alone at 21 Elsmore Road. Ismail Abedi was living with his wife at a different address.55 I will return to this at paragraphs 22.62 to 22.69, when I consider the influence of SA’s parents.

Libyan context

The long‑running conflict in Libya represents the critical background to SA’s journey to radicalisation. The interaction between various factions involved in the Libyan civil war, which began on 17th February 2011,56 is “dizzyingly complex”57 and beyond the scope of this Report.

However, there were broadly three or four groups which were part of the initial overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi and the subsequent violence and instability. These are: a “more moderately Islamist faction”58 broadly represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and affiliates, with a much more hard‑line Al‑Qaeda‑ infiltrated faction; a nationalist secular party led by General Khalifa Haftar; and Islamic State, which wanted to make Libya part of its global caliphate.59

The February 17th Martyrs Brigade was an Islamist militia led by Mahdi al‑Harati, who is reported to have links to Islamist terrorism.60 It is likely that Ramadan Abedi was a member.61

SA and HA travelled with their family to Libya in 2011.62 It is likely that they had some involvement in fighting during the civil war at that time. This may well have been with the February 17th Martyrs Brigade.63 They were at an impressionable age, 16 and 14 respectively, so this would have been a formative experience.

Photographs obtained by Operation Manteline, the police investigation into the Attack, show Ismail Abedi, SA and HA in the company of Abu Anas al‑Libi’s sons carrying large guns, and in military uniforms with weapons.64 During the 1990s, Ramadan Abedi was friends with Abu Anas al‑Libi. Abu Anas al‑Libi was an Al‑Qaeda commander linked to the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. He was captured by the US authorities in 2013 and died of natural causes while awaiting trial.65

SA and HA also spent time in Libya in 2014, a period when the civil war had re‑ignited. They had to be evacuated with the assistance of the Royal Navy because extremist militias were fighting in the area.66 At this time, Islamic State was at the height of its infiltration into Libya.67

The Security Service’s assessment of the intelligence picture as it had been built up following the Attack was that SA and HA may have joined Islamist groups in Libya and attended training camps there.68

I consider it is likely that SA and HA were radicalised in Libya to a significant extent. I also find that it is probable they obtained some form of training or assistance in how to build a bomb in Libya, as well as counter‑surveillance training. The evidence is not sufficiently clear for me to say on which visit or visits to Libya in the period between 2011 and 2017 this took place. I explore the information that is available in some further detail in Volume 3 (closed).

Family influence

Other than HA, there is insufficient evidence to attribute specific knowledge of the Attack to members of the Abedi family. However, it is clear that the wider Abedi family holds significant responsibility for the radicalisation of SA and HA.

The Inquiry sought to obtain evidence from SA’s and HA’s mother and father, Samia Tabbal and Ramadan Abedi. They have not engaged, showing their lack of interest in the Inquiry’s determination to discover the truth. Ramadan Abedi and Samia Tabbal are both in Libya. Although they were contacted, they refused to provide any form of statement.69

Ismail Abedi was resident in the UK at the start of the Inquiry’s oral evidence hearings. He left the country in order to avoid giving evidence.70 In Part 25, I will explain in further detail the steps taken to obtain Ismail Abedi’s evidence.

The result is that SA’s and HA’s parents and older brother have not taken the opportunity to provide their version of events or answer the allegations which have been levelled at them. I am highly critical of the approach they have taken.

HA has been convicted of helping SA to plan the Attack. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. He must serve a minimum term of 55 years before he can apply for parole. In the confession he made to the Inquiry Legal Team in an interview on 23rd October 2020, HA accepted being a supporter of the group called Islamic State, being in favour of violent jihad and the institution of Sharia law through violence and said that the Attack had been carried out in support of Islamic State.71 I will deal further with HA’s confession in Part 23.

Detective Chief Superintendent (DCS) Simon Barraclough, the Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Manteline, suggested that it is highly likely that SA and HA fed off one another’s ideas and radicalised each other.72 Similarly, Dr Wilkinson was of the view that the brothers acted as a trigger for each other as they moved towards planning the Attack.73 I agree. A suicide bomber is less likely to carry out an attack if he does not have the support of one or more person providing encouragement to do it. HA’s part in the Attack was an important one. He provided both practical support and encouragement to SA.

Ramadan Abedi and Samia Tabbal

Ramadan Abedi’s Facebook account contained posts supporting Hamas and Ahmed Abu Khattala. Ahmed Abu Khattala fought against Colonel Gaddafi but then became involved in terrorism and is currently serving a sentence for terrorism offences in the United States.74 Ramadan Abedi’s Facebook account also contained material relating to Abu Anas al‑Libi.75 Dr Wilkinson noted that Ramadan Abedi also made clear his support on Facebook for suicide attacks.76

Samia Tabbal’s Facebook profile contained support for various Islamist militias operating in Libya with links to Al‑Qaeda.77 It contained two pages related to the militant Islamist scholar Suliman al‑Alwan, who has justified suicide bombings and been convicted of funding Al‑Qaeda.78

Ramadan Abedi made a series of trips to Libya in 2011 in connection with the rebellion against Colonel Gaddafi. He was subject to stops under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 powers on 3rd November 2011 and 17th November 2011. He denied being a member of the LIFG. He told immigration officers that he had taken SA and HA to Libya with him in August 2011.79

This trip to Libya seems to have had a detrimental effect on SA. On return to the UK in 2011, SA’s cousin said that SA was “going out partying, drinking smoking weed (cannabis)”,80 and in particular had developed what appeared to be an addiction to tramadol.81 SA’s mother, Samia Tabbal, was so concerned that she asked the family’s GP for advice.82

Despite this, and the increasingly poor behaviour of SA at school, between 2015 and 2017 Ramadan Abedi spent only 102 days in the UK.83 In October 2016, Samia Tabbal travelled to Libya.84 This left no real parental presence or supervision at a key time in SA’s and HA’s development. I will return to the issue of SA’s behaviour at school in paragraphs 22.143 to 22.185.

The absence of their parents coincided with a notable change in the behaviour and attitude of SA and HA from around 2015. A friend of the brothers described how they became “very devout, very religious”85 upon their return from undertaking the Hajj in 2015.86 Another relative said that, while in his teenage years SA was “a rough kind of guy, smoking cannabis. He would be violent, getting into fights, kind of a bit like a gangster lifestyle”,87 from around 2016 SA:
“… started becoming religious. My mum’s view was that his religious views were too strong and she told us not to listen to him. My mum would confront [SA] about his religious views and it sometimes resulted in conflict between them.”88

Becoming more religious or traditional in views is not in itself a sign of radicalisation.89 Dr Wilkinson noted that it is possible that, had SA and HA been exposed to deeper theological teaching, this might have been quite protective against being drawn into extremism.90 It is also possible that, if they had been referred into a de‑radicalisation programme through Prevent, which could have included theological input, that may also have had some positive benefit.

A warning sign during this period was SA becoming increasingly judgemental of other people and their behaviour. He talked at length about political matters in the Middle East and North Africa and displayed signs of affiliation with or support for Islamic State.91 One example of this comes from a friend who knew SA and HA in 2015. The friend recalled them expressing support for Islamic State when watching a television programme.92

Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre assessment (2010)

The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) was established in 2003. It is based at the Security Service’s headquarters. Its role is to analyse and assess intelligence relating to terrorism.93 JTAC was responsible for providing the national threat assessment which I considered in Volume 1 and Volume 2. As I have stated, in May 2017, JTAC’s assessment was that the threat level was ‘Severe’, meaning that an attack was highly likely.94

In 2010, JTAC conducted a regional assessment of Manchester. The content of the relevant parts of that assessment were provided to the Inquiry by the Security Service. That assessment accurately predicted what subsequently happened with SA and HA. The 2010 JTAC report warned that young Libyan‑ linked individuals might be influenced by the elder generations’ historical links to extremist groups such as the LIFG.95 It noted that the crime rate in Manchester was more than double the national average at that time. It also noted that, in certain parts of South Manchester, it was the norm for young men to join a gang. This gave rise to a risk because it can be a challenge for the Security Service and Counter Terrorism Policing to distinguish between activities such as drug‑dealing or fraud and matters of national security interest.96

The risk identified in the 2010 JTAC report was realised in the case of Ismail Abedi, SA and HA. As Dr Wilkinson noted, SA’s upbringing was one in which “his entire experience or expression of Islam was within this Islamist extremist worldview”.97 His father’s experiences and views, as well as those of his father’s friends and associates, existed in the violent extremist space, and this worldview “had obviously percolated down a generation into the sons”:98
“[SA] started off life and he was inculturated into a worldview that, at the very least, was at the fringes of this non-violent Islamist extremism model in and around there, and the journey of his radicalisation was essentially one from that non-violent model into theoretical violent Islamist extremism and then, in its last phases, into what I call operational violent Islamist extremism, so that’s doing operational acts.”99

The worldview of Ramadan Abedi is likely to have heavily influenced his sons, and the worldview of their mother will also have made a contribution but less so. Ramadan Abedi instilled in his sons extremist views and encouraged them to put those views into practice when he exposed them to training with and combat alongside Islamist militias who fought in the Libyan civil war. It is possible that Ramadan Abedi’s focus on Libya meant that he would not have envisaged that SA and HA would consider attacking the UK.

Ismail Abedi

Ismail Abedi was the subject of a port stop under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 on 3rd September 2015.100 His electronic devices were found to contain a significant volume of extremist material. His Facebook account had numerous images of men in camouflage clothing holding weapons, the notorious image of the Jordanian pilot Muath al‑Kasasbeh being burned alive, a picture of Ismail Abedi with a gun next to the son of Abu Anas al‑Libi, a picture of him with a gun in front of a February 17th Martyrs Brigade flag, and images of SA and HA with weapons.101image

Ismail Abedi’s mobile phone also contained numerous violent jihadi nasheeds, songs in praise of Islamic State. Additionally, it contained Islamic State recruitment videos and a download of a 268‑page booklet supporting Islamic State.102 Dr Wilkinson described this material as being “a sort of toolkit of Islamic State propaganda and material. It included the core strategy text of the Islamic State group.”103 This material was examined by the police. It was concluded that it did not meet the evidential threshold for submission to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).104

When Ismail Abedi was arrested the day after the Attack, various electronic devices seized from him were found to contain material supportive of Islamic State.105 The totality of the material from both 2015 and 2017 was reviewed again in January 2021 and on this occasion was submitted to the CPS for a charging decision in June 2021. The CPS advised that there was insufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction for any terrorist offence.106 These were decisions for the CPS, and I make no comment on them.

The rise of Islamic State from around 2014 is likely to have provided the trigger for a shift into a worldview which could envisage an attack in Manchester. Ismail Abedi appears to have assumed the role of guardian for his brothers at the same time as they became most radicalised.107 This was in a period when Ismail Abedi was in possession of violent extremist material supportive of Islamic State.

Dr Wilkinson described Ismail Abedi’s influence as “critical”.108 I do not believe that the evidence is sufficient for me to make a finding as strong as this, but I accept, in the absence of any evidence from Ismail Abedi, that his views did influence SA’s and HA’s worldviews to a significant extent.

Associates and peer group influence

Against the backdrop of a family environment that introduced SA to the ideas and language of Islamist extremism, SA formed friendships with others around his own age who shared similar views and who also had an upbringing affected by conflict and violence. Dr Wilkinson’s view was that SA was “highly influenced by his peer group”.109 Dr Wilkinson identified three elements to this set of influences.

First, he identified a gang‑like group involved in drug‑dealing and other forms of criminal activity.110 Second, he identified a slightly older collection of Islamic State sympathisers, some of whom were convicted of terrorism offences.111 Third, there was a Libyan‑associated set of peers, no doubt influenced by Islamist militias based in Libya that included the son of an Al‑Qaeda commander.112

There was some overlap between these different groups, and all were willing to engage in criminal activity of some sort; as, it appears, were SA’s family. As a result, SA had almost no close connections or friendships that would tie him to law‑abiding society.113

It is likely that some of these friends and associates acted as radicalising influences in a general sense, making it acceptable or even desirable to hold violent extremist views and exposing SA to material that supported and glamorised the actions of groups like Islamic State. Some may also have acted as triggers that moved SA into the operational violent extremist phase.

Abdalraouf Abdallah

The father of Abdalraouf Abdallah, Nagah Abdallah, was a friend and associate of SA’s father, Ramadan Abedi.114 Like Ramadan Abedi, Nagah Abdallah fled Libya as a result of his opposition to Colonel Gaddafi,115 and Abdalraouf Abdallah grew up in a household that was “fiercely anti-Gaddafi”.116

Abdalraouf Abdallah took part in the Libyan civil war as a member of the February 17th Martyrs Brigade. He was seriously injured before returning to the UK towards the end of 2011.117 It appears his engagement in the conflict and injury gave him something of a ‘hero’ status among impressionable young men from a Muslim background who were susceptible to Islamic State propaganda.

In his evidence to the Inquiry, Abdalraouf Abdallah denied having extremist views.118 He stated that he was a “normal Islamic Muslim person who lives in the west”.119 I do not accept this evidence.

Abdalraouf Abdallah has held extremist views. He was convicted of terrorism offences on 11th May 2016, specifically preparing acts of terrorism and assisting others in committing acts of terrorism. He was sentenced to a nine‑and‑a‑half‑ year extended sentence. This was made up of a custodial term of five and a half years, with an extended licence period of four years.120

Abdalraouf Abdallah sought to appeal his sentence to the Court of Appeal, which determined that he was properly described as being “active in a terrorist group based in Manchester in 2014” and that he “organised the terrorist activities of the Manchester group. He provided practical and emotional support to the members of the group.”121

Abdalraouf Abdallah does not accept his conviction.122 He did acknowledge in his evidence to the Inquiry that he initially supported Islamic State, but he said that he now rejects the views and activities of that group.123

I regard the characterisation of Abdalraouf Abdallah by the Court of Appeal as accurate.

Abdalraouf Abdallah had a significant friendship with SA between 2014 and 2017. Although Abdalraouf Abdallah was a few years older than SA, they had grown up together. They had known each other since they were, as Abdalraouf Abdallah put it in evidence, babies.124 They shared a circle of friends.125 Abdalraouf Abdallah was good friends with Ismail Abedi.126

Between July 2014 and November 2014, Abdalraouf Abdallah communicated regularly with SA by mobile phone. Between 5th November 2014 and 28th November 2014, over 1,000 text messages were exchanged between the two.127 In the course of those messages, there were several references to martyrdom, the maidens of paradise, and a senior figure within Al‑Qaeda and his death.128

These messages were discovered as part of the Counter Terrorism Policing investigation into Abdalraouf Abdallah which led to his prosecution and conviction for terrorism offences. That investigation was conducted under the name Operation Oliban. The messages formed part of the case against Abdalraouf Abdallah at his trial. However, the fact that it was SA communicating with Abdalraouf Abdallah was not established by Counter Terrorism Policing until after the Attack.129 I will return to this in Part 24.

Dr Wilkinson analysed the messages sent between Abdalraouf Abdallah and SA and concluded that Abdalraouf Abdallah was “one of the major influences” in the process of radicalising SA into violent Islamist extremism.130 He acknowledged that the evidence did not support the idea that Abdalraouf Abdallah was persuading SA to carry out the Attack in the period 2016–17.131 I agree that the evidence does not support such a conclusion.

Abdalraouf Abdallah was arrested on 28th November 2014. He was charged with terrorism offences and remanded into custody at Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Belmarsh.132 While there, Abdalraouf Abdallah attempted to call SA 38 times on the prison telephone, known as the ‘PIN telephone’, short for PIN (personal identification number) Telephone System, although only ten of these calls connected for more than ten seconds.133

The relationship between Abdalraouf Abdallah and SA was not restricted to telephone contact during Abdalraouf Abdallah’s remand in custody pending trial. SA visited Abdalraouf Abdallah in HMP Belmarsh on 26th February 2015. On that occasion, he was with Ahmed Taghdi.134 Ahmed Taghdi was a friend of SA’s.

On 29th July 2015, Abdalraouf Abdallah was released on bail. He remained on bail until his trial.135 During this period, Abdalraouf Abdallah spent considerable time in the company of SA.136

As I stated in paragraph 22.86, on 11th May 2016, Abdalraouf Abdallah was convicted following a trial of the preparation of terrorist acts, contrary to section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006, and being concerned in a funding arrangement related to terrorism, contrary to section 17 of the Terrorism Act 2000. He was sentenced on 15th July 2016. He was transferred to HMP Altcourse in December 2016.137 SA visited him again on 18th January 2017 with Elyas Elmehdi and another man.138 Elyas Elmehdi was a friend of SA’s.

SA had been due to visit Abdalraouf Abdallah on 17th January 2017. SA was also due to visit Abdalraouf Abdallah on 6th March 2017 with Alzoubare Mohammed. SA did not attend on either occasion.139

I shall return to Ahmed Taghdi and Alzoubare Mohammed at paragraphs 22.112 to 22.125.

SA was not on Abdalraouf Abdallah’s list of approved PIN telephone contacts while Abdalraouf Abdallah was at HMP Altcourse.140 On 17th February 2017, Abdalraouf Abdallah was found to be in possession of an illicit mobile phone at HMP Altcourse. Analysis after the Attack of the billing data for that mobile phone showed he had called SA on 16th January and 24th January 2017.141 I will comment further on this billing data in Part 24.

Members of SA’s extended family linked SA’s growing friendship with Abdalraouf Abdallah to changes in his behaviour and views that suggested SA was becoming more extreme, and had increasing interest in Libyan politics and support for Islamic State.142

The Inquiry received evidence from a prison officer who reported a conversation he had had with Abdalraouf Abdallah on 1st December 2021. This was six days after Abdalraouf Abdallah gave evidence to the Inquiry.

The prison officer reported that Abdalraouf Abdallah said that SA had talked to him (Abdalraouf Abdallah) over a period of years about causing harm to others. The prison officer reported that Abdalraouf Abdallah said that SA had talked about “killing people in a public space”.143 The prison officer reported that Abdalraouf Abdallah had said that because SA had never done anything, he had not taken it seriously. The prison officer reported that Abdalraouf Abdallah stated that he was very shocked when he discovered that “one of his boys” had carried out the Attack.144

Abdalraouf Abdallah did not mention what he told the prison officer during his evidence to the Inquiry on 25th November 2021.

I accept the prison officer’s evidence. I find that Abdalraouf Abdallah did say these things to him. Bearing in mind the circumstance in which they were said, they are likely to represent the truth of what Abdalraouf Abdallah was told by SA and the truth of what he thought about it. This indicates that Abdalraouf Abdallah was aware of the threat that SA presented but was not aware that he had identified a specific target.

I find that Abdalraouf Abdallah had an important role in radicalising SA. I agree with the investigators of Operation Manteline that he provided “ideological motivation and encouragement, rather than … a more practical hands-on assistance”.145

There is insufficient evidence to enable me to conclude that Abdalraouf Abdallah had any prior knowledge of the Attack on 22nd May 2017.146 There was no direct contact between Abdalraouf Abdallah and SA in the immediate run‑up to the Attack.147

The Operation Manteline team considered whether Abdalraouf Abdallah could have maintained contact with SA through others but found no evidence of this.148 It is probably no more than coincidence that on 18th January 2017 and 24th January 2017 Abdalraouf Abdallah made calls at about the same time as the purchase and delivery of acid.149 I shall return to this acid purchase in Part 23.

It is not possible to know exactly what Abdalraouf Abdallah and SA spoke about by telephone in 2017. Abdalraouf Abdallah stated in evidence that he used the illicit mobile phone to keep himself occupied and call his friends simply to chat. He also stated that the PIN telephone was expensive.150 I am not inclined to accept Abdalraouf Abdallah’s evidence about this on its own, as he was not a credible witness.

The Inquiry received evidence from Paul Mott. Paul Mott was the Head of the Joint Extremism Unit, which is the strategic centre for all counter‑terrorism work in prisons.151 Paul Mott agreed that the PIN telephone was relatively expensive in 2017.152 It also seems likely that Abdalraouf Abdallah genuinely believed his mobile phone calls were being monitored.153 On balance, I am not persuaded that there was any discussion of specific attack planning between Abdalraouf Abdallah and SA in January 2017.

However, that does not mean that SA’s visits to Abdalraouf Abdallah in prison and telephone communication with him in 2016 and 2017 were unimportant. It is likely that their continued relationship made a significant contribution to consolidating SA’s ideology as he was contemplating the Attack, and stiffened his resolve to carry out the atrocity, albeit in a general manner rather than in relation to any particular details.

Ahmed Taghdi

Ahmed Taghdi had known the Abedis since childhood. His family knew the Abedi family. In his statement to the police, dated June 2019, he described SA as a “really good friend of mine”.154 Ahmed Taghdi’s father was killed by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces during the 2011 civil war in Libya.155

Ahmed Taghdi visited Abdalraouf Abdallah with SA on 26th February 2015 at HMP Belmarsh.156 In evidence, he denied that Abdalraouf Abdallah had said or done anything to radicalise him or SA. He stated that there had been two prison officers close by, and he had thought that the visit was being monitored. He stated that it was a social visit, and they did not talk about religion or politics.157

Ahmed Taghdi’s last contact with SA was by text on 1st May 2017, when SA told him to delete his number and any old messages.158

Ahmed Taghdi denied holding extremist views.159 However, this was difficult to reconcile with his past behaviour. On 22nd March 2016, he wrote to a woman he followed on social media, criticising her for sympathising with the victims of the Brussels airport attack, an attack by violent Islamist extremists that had taken place that day.160 Images of fighters, weapons, artillery and military marches were found on Ahmed Taghdi’s electronic devices.161 Whatever his views now, I consider that Ahmed Taghdi has held extremist views at some point in the past.

I also find that Ahmed Taghdi was part of a peer group around SA that did nothing to dissuade SA from descending into an increasingly extremist worldview. However, there was insufficient evidence to find that Ahmed Taghdi radicalised SA or that he was a particular cause for SA taking the final step from theoretical into operational violent Islamist extremism.

In reaching this view, I have borne in mind that Ahmed Taghdi was involved in the purchase of the vehicle used by SA and HA in the plot. I will return to Ahmed Taghdi in Part 23 when I consider those involved in key events related to the planning and preparation for the Attack.

Alzoubare Mohammed

Alzoubare Mohammed got to know SA in 2014 or 2015 and they became friends. Their fathers knew one another. Both parents were members of the Libyan community. Alzoubare Mohammed was also friends with Abdalraouf Abdallah and Ahmed Taghdi.162

Alzoubare Mohammed stated in evidence that he and SA used to talk about football and “general things that lads would talk about”.163 He stated that they would “socialise, do what lads do, but nothing political”.164

Alzoubare Mohammed stated in evidence that he had not heard SA express extremist views.165 He stated that in late 2016 to 2017 SA “distanced himself from the lads”.166 He explained this further by saying that SA “would probably go to the mosque more often, he’d probably go to the gym whilst we were doing whatever we were doing”.167 He agreed that SA was more withdrawn and more religious during this period.168

Alzoubare Mohammed visited Abdalraouf Abdallah on three occasions at HMP Altcourse. On one of those occasions, on 17th January 2017, SA was also due to attend the visit but did not. Alzoubare Mohammed stated in evidence that the visits were purely social and designed to uplift Abdalraouf Abdallah’s spirits.169

On 15th May 2017, SA telephoned Alzoubare Mohammed from Libya. Alzoubare Mohammed’s account in evidence of this call was that it was “a general conversation, how he’d been, how’s the family”.170 He stated that there was no indication that SA was coming back to the UK. He stated that, with hindsight, he thought it might be that SA was calling him to say goodbye, although there was no indication of that at the time.171

On 22nd and 23rd May 2017, Alzoubare Mohammed visited Devell House (see Figure 44 in Part 23). Between 15th April 2017 and 19th May 2017, the Nissan Micra that was used to store the explosive SA and HA had manufactured was parked in the car park at Devell House. I shall set this out in more detail in Part 23. The vehicle in which the explosive had been stored was still in the car park when Alzoubare Mohammed attended. Alzoubare Mohammed’s explanation in evidence for his presence at Devell House was that he was visiting the occupant of a flat, Elyas Blidi,172 to whom I refer in Part 23.

Having considered all of the evidence, I find that it is probable that these visits to Devell House were unconnected with the Attack. In particular, I was persuaded by answers Alzoubare Mohammed gave about those visits, which suggested he was engaged in activity unrelated to the Attack.173

Overall I find that, as he accepted, Alzoubare Mohammed was part of the same peer group as Ahmed Taghdi. There is insufficient evidence to support a finding that Alzoubare Mohammed played any role in radicalising SA.

Other associates

Mansoor al‑Anezi was a resident of the South West of England. He was arrested in 2008 as part of the investigation into Nicky Reilly. Nicky Reilly attempted unsuccessfully to carry out a suicide bombing in Exeter. Mansoor al‑Anezi was in contact with SA and HA between October 2016 and January 2017.174

Mansoor al‑Anezi died in January 2017. SA visited him shortly before his death, and both SA and HA attended his funeral on 17th January 2017.175 This appears to be the reason that SA did not visit Abdalraouf Abdallah in HMP Altcourse that day. Although the details of the relationship between Mansoor al‑Anezi and SA are not known, DCS Barraclough described it as “clearly a connection of significance”.176 I agree. This relationship played a part in the development of SA’s worldview, although the evidence did not enable me to say how great a part or in what way it operated.

Raphael Hostey is likely to have been a key influence. SA knew Raphael Hostey and spent time with him socially. SA was close to Raphael Hostey’s family.177 Raphael Hostey travelled to Syria to fight with Islamic State in October 2013 and, having been injured, became a prominent propagandist for that group, recruiting people from around the world and particularly from his own South Manchester community. He is reported to have been killed in Syria by a drone strike in Spring 2016.178 I am satisfied that, in some way that I cannot quantify, Raphael Hostey played a part in the radicalisation of SA, either directly or indirectly.

Online content

Dr Wilkinson noted that there is a “huge problem” with extreme material being posted online that may have a radicalising influence.179 The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament previously identified the ease with which such material is accessed as an issue in its 2014 report.180 This is a problem which is only growing in significance, and it seems inevitable that Islamic State propaganda and other extremist content on the internet was at least one factor in SA’s and HA’s radicalisation.

Despite a detailed investigation into their online presence, there is limited evidence of extremist mindset material directly attributable to SA or HA themselves.181 A Facebook account belonging to SA was deleted before it could be investigated. An older account last accessed in November 2014 contained no evidence of extremism.182 A mobile phone used by SA was recovered after the Attack, but was subject to a factory reset before it was disposed of by him.183

Examination of HA’s social media profiles revealed more. When HA’s Facebook account was analysed after the Attack, it was found to include images of Islamic State recruiter Reyaad Khan, images of HA holding guns, pictures of Islamic State fighters, including some where they are chopping off a man’s hand, and a passenger plane heading towards the Twin Towers with the caption ‘For Allah’.184

As set out at paragraphs 22.74 to 22.78, Ismail Abedi was found in possession of significant extremist material that had been disseminated online. Given this, it is striking that no criminal prosecution could be brought against Ismail Abedi for possessing material described by Dr Wilkinson as the “full radicalising kit of texts and nasheeds of … Islamic State”.185

The Commission for Countering Extremism was established in 2017 as a non‑statutory expert committee of the Home Office operating independently from government. In 2019, it proposed a definition of “hateful extremism” as “[a]ctivity or materials directed at an out-group who are perceived as a threat to an in-group motivated by or intending to advance a political, religious or racial supremacist ideology”.186

In February 2021, it published a report entitled Operating with Impunity – Hateful Extremism: The need for a legal framework, and again proposed that new definition and a new criminal offence of possession of terrorist propaganda.187

The Chief Coroner at the London Bridge Inquests similarly suggested consideration be given to legislating for “offences of possessing the most serious material which glorifies or encourages terrorism”.188 The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall KC, considered the proposal in his report The Terrorism Acts in 2019, published in March 2021, but ultimately did not recommend such a change.189

Shaun Hipgrave from the Homeland Security Group stated in evidence to the Inquiry that the 2021 Commission for Countering Extremism report remains under consideration by the Secretary of State.190 I recommend that such consideration be given as a matter of urgency.

Overall findings on influences

The view of the Operation Manteline investigation was that SA’s and HA’s radicalisation was not due to a single moment, event or person. The investigators considered that the role of Ramadan Abedi is likely to have been of significance, that a change in SA’s and HA’s conduct and behaviour coincided with Abdalraouf Abdallah becoming more involved in their lives, and that by late 2016 both brothers had become thoroughly radicalised.191 I agree in every respect.

The period about which the least information is available is the immediate run‑up to the Attack, from December 2016 to May 2017. There is very little evidence about what SA’s mindset was in this period and when or how he moved into the operational phase of his attack planning.192 However, I am satisfied that by the end of 2016 SA and HA had become entirely committed to violent action of some extreme kind. I will address this in greater detail in Part 23.

While noting that the Abedis’ upbringing as children made them very vulnerable to radicalisation, Dr Wilkinson’s view was that the real movement towards radicalisation started in around late 2013.193 This was the time that people close to SA, such as Raphael Hostey and Abdalraouf Abdallah, started to show significant interest in Islamic State.194 As SA’s interaction with first Raphael Hostey and latterly Abdalraouf Abdallah increased over the following two or three years, this put him on a trajectory towards an operational violent Islamist extremist worldview.

The beliefs of Ramadan Abedi and his peers laid the foundations, but their focus was on their home country of Libya. It appears that the appearance of Islamic State, and particularly its declaration that it had established a caliphate in June 2014, was a major trigger for the radicalisation of not just SA and HA but a wider group of young men. Figures such as Abdalraouf Abdallah and Raphael Hostey functioned as inspirations and ‘poster boys’ for Islamic State, encouraging people to travel to Syria to fight and providing active assistance to those wishing to do so.

Ismail Abedi and friends of SA and HA accessed Islamic State material online, and it is inevitable that SA and HA did as well. This material would have fuelled their radicalisation by glorifying the actions of Islamic State. The material encouraged armed struggle and martyrdom. It focused anger and hatred on to Western society. This material is likely to have been more impactful in the absence of responsible parents and given the lack of engagement with education or meaningful work.

Some of these ‘factors’ and ‘triggers’ applied to many people from backgrounds like the Abedis in this period, very few of whom went on to commit terrorist atrocities.195 However, in the case of SA and HA, the sheer number of factors, against the backdrop of experiencing the Libyan conflict, plus the presence of significant figures with connections to violent extremism, made them prime candidates for radicalisation. Dr Wilkinson’s conclusion was that by 2017 every conceivable radicalising malign presence and noxious absence existed in SA’s life: “I have never seen such a complete picture of the Petri dish absolutely brimming with germs.196 This captures graphically what I consider the position to have been.