Didsbury mosque distances itself from Manchester bomber

Manchester Islamic Centre and mosque attended by Salman Abedi call bombing ‘act of cowardice’ and urge anyone with information to contact police

A mosque attended by Salman Abedi and members of his family has called for anyone with information about the bombing to contact the police and attempted to distance itself from the attacker.

In a strongly worded statement, Didsbury mosque and Manchester Islamic Centre called the bombing an act of cowardice and insisted it had worked peacefully at the heart of the community for half a century.

But the mosque and centre refused to answer questions about Abedi’s links with them. The Guardian has learned that his father worked at the mosque before leaving for Tripoli and one of the imams, Mohammed Saeed, has described how Abedi attended regularly and had once looked at him “with hate” when he gave a sermon criticising Isis and Ansar al-Sharia in Libya.

Though the mosque has emphasised that Muslims from many different parts of the world are among its worshippers, there is a strong Libyan element.

Another of the imams is a man of Libyan origin called Mustafa Graf, who was captured and tortured by Gaddafi forces in 2012 when he went to try to spirit his mother out of the country. On his return he told the Manchester Evening News they had been caught at the border with Tunisia and he had been suspected of being a spy because he had a British passport.

Graf was introduced to reporters when the mosque and centre’s statement was read out on Wednesday, but did not speak. However, he has posted a statement on Facebook condemning the bombing.

His statement also emphasises how events in the Middle East are keenly felt in south Manchester. “As a community we have lost many hundreds of people who bravely fought and defeated Isis in Sirte, Libya, only a few months ago, and so we are affected by grief again.”

Based in a red-brick 19th-century chapel on a leafy street, the mosque has operated since 1967 when the building was bought by donors from the Syrian Arab community. There is a prayer hall, library and multipurpose activity hall.

Hundreds of people can worship at any one time and it opens its doors to the community at large every Sunday. When the Guardian was invited into the mosque on Tuesday evening, dozens of children were there for lessons. Women are also welcomed.

The congregation includes Muslims from Africa, Asia and Europe. It numbers many taxi drivers, businessmen and doctors, some of whom helped in the aftermath of the bombing.

On Wednesday two police vans, one a mobile video unit, were parked outside the mosque and officers guarded all four corners. Community support officers also patrolled the neighbourhood. There was no sign of searches taking place in the mosque.

Worshippers found themselves having to defend the mosque to a huge press pack. Retired social worker Halima Khan said good Muslims would never kill.

Scene at Didsbury mosque today. pic.twitter.com/bsOKnt42YM

— steven morris (@stevenmorris20) May 24, 2017

“We all want to go to heaven. We believe that hurting people will lead to hellfire,” Khan said, adding that she was frustrated that the focus was on her mosque and her community. “Islam is a religion of peace.”

Before making its statement in front of the world’s media, the mosque called for a minute’s silence to remember the victims of Monday’s attack.

The director of the centre’s trustees, Mohammad el-Khayat, then said: “The horrific atrocity that occurred in Manchester on Monday night has shocked us all. This act of cowardice has no place in our religion or any other religion.

“We encourage anyone who may have information about the individual involved to contact the police without any delay so they can assist with their investigation.”

He expressed anger at some reports of Abedi’s links with the mosque.

“Some media reports have reported that the bomber worked at the Manchester Islamic Centre. This is not true. We express concern that a very small section of the media are manufacturing stories.”

He concluded: “Manchester is a city with a great history and a prosperous and bright future. The Manchester Islamic Centre is proud to be part of this great city of Manchester.”


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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