An imam at the same mosque where the Manchester bomber frequently prayed called for armed Jihad in Syria and Iraq, a report has revealed.
Six months before suicide bomber Salman Abedi murdered 22 people at an Ariane Grande concert last year, a recording obtained by the BBC and released on Thursday exposed a sermon at controversial Didsbury mosque urging that prayers be said for “mujahideen” fighting abroad.
Two Islamic scholars said the preacher at the mosque referred to “military jihad” something the accused imam Mustafa Graf denied.
“Jihad for the sake of Allah is the source of pride and dignity for this nation,” he said in December 2016. He also attacked Russia and Iran for their support of Syrian leader Bashir Al Assad.
“We ask Allah to grant them mujahideen – our brothers and sisters right now in Aleppo and Syria and Iraq – to grant them victory,” Mr Graf added to followers at Didsbury mosque, where Mr Abedi and his family attended regularly and another five terrorists are thought to have been frequent attendees.
“The jihad he’s referring to here is actually being on the battlefield, there’s no ifs and no buts in this,” the Muslim expert Shaykh Rehan told the BBC.
“He’s giving them the narrative of them against us. He is psychologically and practically brainwashing young people into either travelling or to do something to take action,” he added.
Though not on the same day, both Mr Abedi and Mr Graf appeared in videos protesting against a campaign by Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar against a coalition of Islamist and extremist armed groups in Libya.
It is unclear if Mr Abedi attended Didsbury mosque on the day of the recording but it was reported he bought his ticket for the Ariana Grande concert only 10 days later.
Manchester’s Libyan community has sometimes been accused of harbouring extremist and Muslim Brotherhood elements that fled Libya during the rule of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Mr Graf has since insisted he does not believe in Islamic extremism and the mosque’s trustees said he was simply calling for aid and attention to the plight of Muslims in Iraq and Syria.
“The whole world, including Europe, America – what is the so-called civilised world – is watching what is happening in Aleppo and Syria.
“They know that Iran, Russia and the militias are killing humans in Syria and they do nothing. Well in fact they helped the Russians and the Iranians and others, the militias, to kill Muslims over there,” he tells the sermon.
Usama Hasan, head of Islamic studies at Quilliam, a counter-terrorism think tank, said: Mr Graf was clearly referring to violent jihad in the way he preached.
“I have known the Islamic discourse for pretty much 40 years, from being a child in this country and worldwide, and the mujahideen are the group fighting armed jihad.”
After the attack by Mr Abedi last May, Mr Graf condemned the attack and said: “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.”