From Disney to deadly: how the Abedi brothers were radicalised

Friends and family told of watching ‘Goofy’ and ‘Dumbo’ change in the leadup to the Manchester bombing

Hashem Abedi was likened to the cartoon character Goofy – clumsy, a little stupid and someone who got things wrong, “just like a normal dozy” young person. His speciality was making “very big spliffs”.

It was a similar story for his older brother, Salman. His nickname was Dumbo, after another Disney character.

Neither brother had completed their education, nor did they want to, preferring to party with their friends, drinking vodka and smoking weed daily.

But during Hashem’s seven-week terrorism trial a more complex and troubling picture emerged of him and his brother, who murdered 22 children and adults in a suicide bombing at a pop concert at Manchester Arena in 2017.

The brothers, according to friends and family, slowly but surely drifted towards violent extremist views.

The catalyst for the change was their father’s decision to fight in the 2011 Libyan revolution to oust Muammar Gaddafi. For a short time, Ramadan Abedi, a seasoned fighter, was joined by Salman. But the 16-year-old was reportedly injured during the fighting and returned to the UK without his father.

For the next five years, the boys were left largely alone at an age when they were potentially vulnerable to falling under other influences without any “strong paternal guidance”.

Relatives say this is when they went off the rails. Their initial associations were with small-time criminal gangs fighting against a rival grouping in south Manchester. But soon after, the brothers began associating with well-known and suspected terrorists, and both began to preach to their cousins and friends about being “good Muslims”.

Their uncle Adel Forjani, 49, told the Old Bailey during Hashem’s trial, that he had seen both nephews with the twice-convicted terrorist Abdal Raouf Abdallah in his barber shop. Forjani said his nephews had begun showing signs of radicalisation, changing how they dressed and attending a different mosque, before coming into his shop with Abdallah “once, maybe twice”.

Speaking via an interpreter, a concerned Forjani, said he told his own sons he did not want Abdallah in the shop and told them not to “mingle with him”.

In May 2016, Abdallah, 26, who was paralysed after being shot while fighting against the Gaddafi regime in the 2011 uprising, was jailed for more than five years for trying to help people travel to Syria to join jihadists.

Four months before the bombing, Salman and two other men visited Abdallah at HMP Altcourse in Liverpool, and there were subsequent phone calls between the pair.

This was not the brothers’ only link with terrorists. Neighbours and acquaintances have talked of the pair’s growing religious intolerance during this time, including an incident when an imam at Didsbury mosque, where their father had worked, gave a sermon criticising Islamic State and was given a “look of hate” by Salman afterwards.

Police were investigating the brothers’ links with Raphael Hostey, who was killed in an airstrike in Mosul in May 2016, aged 24. Hostey, from Moss Side, is believed to have sponsored hundreds of terrorist recruits.

A Guardian investigation revealed that 16 convicted or dead terrorists had emerged from the same 2.5 sq miles in south Manchester where the Abedi brothers lived. It is understood they were part of a radical network and some prayed at the same mosque, including the Muslim convert and former RAF gunner Stephen Gray, Raymond Matimba and Ronald Fiddler, also known as Jamal al-Harith.

While Salman was still a teenager, friends rang a police counter-terrorism hotline expressing concerns about his behaviour. On at least four other occasions, community leaders and members of his family were reported to have warned of his dangerous tendencies.

During Hashem’s trial it emerged that they allegedly duped unsuspecting friends and relatives to buy the components for their bomb. Many of these cousins and acquaintances were arrested after the bombing but were released without charge.

A public inquiry in June will seek to establish whether any opportunities were missed with the Abedi brothers.

On the night of the bombing, Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Barraclough made a promise to bring justice, not just for the victims, but to prevent more bloodshed. As Abedi, was convicted, the officer said the case remained “open” in case further information about more plotters emerged.


Nazia Parveen North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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