When Salman Abedi blew himself up at a pop concert in the northern English city of Manchester, his younger brother was 2,500 kilometres away in Libya denying any knowledge of the murderous attack.
He would later tell police that he first knew of his brother’s role the following day, mere hours before he was arrested by Libyan security forces.
“I was shocked my brother had done this and felt bad for everybody,” he wrote in a signed statement to police on his return to the UK in 2019. “I could never have envisaged that my brother had it in him to do this to innocent people.”
It quickly became clear Abedi was lying – and that he had played a pivotal role in the murders of 22 and maiming of hundreds more at the conclusion of the Ariana Grande gig at Manchester Arena.
The last telephone call made by Salman Abedi – only two hours before he pressed the detonator in his pocket – was to his brother in Libya, seeking last-minute inspiration and advice as he loitered outside the venue, police believe.
“He provided encouragement right to the end,” a senior police officer said.
Detectives believe the radicalisation of the brothers – both born and raised in Manchester – dates back to time they spent in Libya and through contacts with extremists in the UK dedicated to the ISIS cause.
The Abedi family fled Libya in the 1990s and the brothers are both believed to have returned to the country as teenagers to support the uprising against Col Muammar Qaddafi activists in 2011.
One of their former neighbours in Manchester was Abd Al Baset Azzouz, who also left Britain in 2011 to run an Al Qaeda network in Libya overseen by its leader Ayman Al Zawahiri. Azzouz was considered a key operative and an expert bomb-maker, according to a UN sanctions list.
The brothers, the second and third of six children, returned to Britain and lived alone in the family home in south Manchester after their parents returned to Libya in 2016.
Hashem went to parties in London and Amsterdam, and smoked drugs at a beach hut with a friend during a visit to Libya. One witness said that Salman was a “rough kind of guy” who would get into fights during his teenage years. He was given reprimands for theft in 2012 and assaulted a girl at college. His brother did not have a criminal record.
Without the oversight of their parents, the brothers grew more religiously extreme – Salman more so than Hashem – and witnesses told of how they talked about ISIS and the conflict in Libya. The brothers had adopted conservative beliefs after travelling on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, according to one of their friends. Hashem, who worked briefly in Germany, accused a contact there of not being a true Muslim because he failed to pray enough and tried to persuade him to regularly fulfil his obligations.
The pair gave up their education and were seen with a convicted terrorist, Abdalraouf Abdallah, at a barber’s shop run by their uncle. Abdallah travelled to Libya in 2011 to fight against the regime of Col Qaddafi but, shot and badly injured, he was left in a wheelchair. Abdallah was convicted in 2016 of helping to persuade his brother Mohammed and others to go from Manchester to Syria to fight for ISIS. Abdallah also wired £2,000 (Dh8,838) to Turkey to help his brother sign up with the terrorist group.
Salman Abedi visited Abdallah in 2017 while he was serving his five-and-a-half-year term for recruiting terrorists for ISIS. He was booked in to visit again in March – two months before the Arena attack – but he did not turn up.
Instead, he was plotting an attack with Hashem – both of them watched an ISIS bomb-making video that was posted in November 2016. But the court heard that Hashem played a central role in obtaining the chemicals and shrapnel for the device that exploded with such devastating impact at the Manchester Arena in May 2017.
A former engineering student until he dropped out, he had the knowledge to build the electrical circuits needed to make the device. He co-opted friends and relatives into securing acid to make the bomb, telling them that the liquid was required to fill a power generator in Libya following an accident at the family home.
But the siblings’ plans for an attack went awry in April 2017 when the family was alerted to their growing radicalisation. Their parents travelled back to the UK after concerns were raised by their older son Ismail, police believe. “They must have known they were getting so badly radicalised they were about to do something stupid,” said Simon Barraclough, the senior police investigating officer.
Days later, Hashem and Salman returned to Libya on one-way tickets.
“They started to be radicalised, they were into drugs and they left their education, that’s as far as I know,” a relative told the court.
Only Salman travelled back to the UK on May 18, four days before the attack, leaving Hashem at the family home on the outskirts of Tripoli. In those final days, Salman collected the home-made bomb, hidden in a car while they were in Libya, and plotted the last details of the attack.
Lawyers for Abedi had sought to portray Salman as the mastermind of the bombing plot. The court had heard that Hashem was “scared” of his older brother, who he claimed forced him to attend the mosque. But the suggestion was dismissed by police who said he was as responsible for the attack as his sibling. They suspect he may have been plotting another atrocity – possibly in Libya – but was arrested by Libyan security forces before he could carry it out.
The extent of Hashem’s involvement emerged after a painstaking police investigation in which 22 people were arrested, but only Hashem faced a jury.
His father, Ramadan, a prominent critic of Col Qaddafi, was also held by the militia.
While his son was extradited, Ramadan Abedi – a former government official after the downfall of Col Qaddafi – was released and is understood to still be living in Tripoli with his family.
British police want to interview him but he and his wife have not returned to the UK since their mission to bring the two sons back to Libya only weeks before the Manchester Arena attack.
In the aftermath of the suicide bombing, Mr Abedi was reported to have said Salman had not been aligned to any group. Expressing astonishment that his son had been involved, he claimed: “Salman doesn’t have this ideology. There are hidden hands behind this.”