A convicted terrorist was in regular contact with Manchester Arena suicide bomber Salman Abedi using a mobile phone smuggled into prison, a public inquiry has heard.
Abedi, 22, was in touch by phone and through prison visits with Abdalraouf Abdallah until a few months before he launched an attack on a pop concert at the Manchester Arena in May 2017, leaving 22 dead and hundreds injured.
Abdallah was convicted in 2016 and is serving more than nine years in prison for raising money and helping British fighters travel to Syria. He has refused to give evidence to the inquiry about his regular conversations with Abedi, the inquiry heard on Wednesday.
The pair had been in touch since 2014 when they discussed the martyrdom of a senior Al-Qaeda figure, according to police analysis of Abdallah’s phone.
“It seems... that Salman Abedi’s relationship with Abdalraouf Abdallah was one of some significance in the period prior to the bombing and we are determined to get to the bottom of it,” said Paul Greaney, the counsel to the inquiry.
Abdallah, a British Libyan, is in a wheelchair after being shot in the back and partially paralysed while taking part in the 2011 uprising against Col Muammar Qaddafi. His crimes were committed after he returned to the UK.
The inquiry, which started on Monday under retired judge John Saunders, is investigating whether enough was done to monitor visits to prisoners who are known to have extremist views. Abedi was able to visit him in two separate prisons.
“The question that we’ll pose is: How was Salman Abedi able to visit a prisoner such as Abdalraouf Abdallah?” said Mr Greaney.
Staff at Altcourse Prison, in Liverpool, northwest England, found the illicit phone in February 2017 and discovered that it had been used to make calls to Salman Abedi’s number. The attack happened three months later.
The inquiry also heard that Salman Abedi was an associate of a Kuwaiti citizen, Mansoor Al Anezi, who led prayers at a mosque in Plymouth, southwest England.
He was arrested but never charged because of his close association with a man convicted of a failed suicide bombing at a restaurant in 2008.
The Kuwaiti died of cancer in January 2017 with Abedi at his side. Abedi then missed a prison visit with Abdallah to attend his funeral, the inquiry was told.
Salman Abedi’s remaining family, including his father Ramadan and his younger brother Hashem, who is serving life in prison for his role in helping prepare the attack, have all declined to give evidence to the inquiry.
Mr Greaney said: "Ramadan has indicated that he does not intend to assist the inquiry. “As will be obvious, this is most unhelpful and we hope that Salman Abedi’s family will reflect and understand that they have a moral obligation to provide the information we require in order to enable the chairman to reach his conclusions.”