Hashem Abedi was ‘tortured’ into Libya confession

Lawyers claimed that he was illegally extradited to the UK

FILE - In this Friday, May 26, 2017 file photo, people stand next to tributes placed in St Ann's Square in central Manchester, England, after Monday's bombing. A major British parliamentary report found Thursday Nov. 22, 2018, that shortcomings by security services led to missed opportunities to possibly prevent last year's lethal extremist attack at Manchester Arena. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti, File)
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Britain was complicit in near-daily sessions of “extreme torture” of Hashem Abedi while he was held at a notorious interrogation centre in Libya, his former lawyers claimed.

Abedi was detained in Libya a day after the attack on the Manchester Arena on May 22, 2017, and held in Tripoli by a militia force where he was subjected to “systematic torture”. After being struck in the groin, he needed treatment in a clinic, a court in London was told.

Abedi’s lawyers claimed that the UK knew he was being tortured and that he had been brought in, shackled or blindfolded and surrounded by militiamen, to meet British officials.

His captors asked questions during interrogation sessions about potential accomplices in Manchester that could only have been passed on by the British side, his lawyers argued.

Abedi claimed that he had overhead one of his jailers saying that the answers had “gone to the Brits”.

The worst of the torture ended when he signed a written confession less than a month after the attack by his elder brother Salman but he had, by then, been visited by a British official who noticed marks on his wrists, a court heard.

His former lawyers said that signs of his torture should have been obvious to two visiting members of the UK’s security services who handed him a box of Cadbury Heroes chocolates, the court heard.

The militia group has been cited by human rights group Amnesty International for abuses including abductions, arbitrary detention and torture. The group, loyal to the UN-backed government in Tripoli, has  abducted journalists, political opponents and critics of the militias operating in the country, Amnesty International said.

Hashem and Salman’s elder brother, Ismail, contacted officials in London in June 2017 to allege details of the torture.

In a subsequent visit, officials took photographs of marks on his arm, ankle and back that Abedi said were caused by torture.

“I have been held in a very small, dark cell for two years and almost two months,” he said in a statement to police on his return to Britain. “I have also been tortured. I am relieved to be back in the UK and wish to assist in this investigation as much as I can.”

The jury at the trial heard claims that Abedi was tortured in Libya but was not aware of the alleged confession that Abedi was said have made. No evidence obtained in Libya was used at the trial.

Under an extradition agreement between the UK and Libya, no nationals of either country can be extradited. Although he was born in Manchester, Hashem Abedi had Libyan nationality through his father.

The militia holding Abedi – who was a British-Libyan dual national - originally refused to hand him over to the UK.

Britain started a formal application for his extradition only after a visit to Libya in 2017 by Boris Johnson, the then foreign minister, when the UK pledged more than £9 million to the Tripoli-based administration.

After the trip, Mr Johnson said: “Libya is the front line for many challenges which, left unchecked, can pose problems for us in the UK – particularly illegal migration and the threat from terrorism.”

A court in Tripoli in 2019 stripped Abedi of his Libyan citizenship and he was returned to the UK in July of that year to stand trial. It was the first time a Libyan had been extradited, his legal team said.

Lawyers for Abedi said that the UK was complicit in unlawful extradition, using its economic power to persuade Libya to return him. The claim was rejected by Mr Justice Jeremy Baker, allowing the trial to go ahead.

The claims that Britain knew about the torture – which were not contested by the prosecution – comes after the UK in 2018 made an unprecedented apology for its role in the treatment of a Libyan dissident and his wife who were victims of a rendition operation mounted with the help of UK security agencies.

Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the leader of the Al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), was seized in Thailand in 2004 based on information from British intelligence and then flown to a prison run by Col Muammar Qaddafi. He was tortured and sentenced to death but was freed six years later.

Ramadan Abedi, the father of Salman and Hashem, was said to have been a senior member of the LIFG, although he has denied being a member.

Some of its former members settled in Manchester after being driven into exile by the Qaddafi regime.

The UK government last year removed the LIFG from a list of terrorist organisations, saying that it had become “defunct” with the removal of Col Qaddafi. The LIFG, once described by the UK as a “brutal terrorist organisation”, was disbanded in 2010-11.

A damning British 2018 parliamentary report that identified 232 cases between 2001 and 2010 in which the UK supplied questions to their counterparts in the US despite knowing of or suspecting mistreatment globally.