The man accused of grooming the suicide bomber responsible for a deadly 2017 attack on a pop concert in Manchester says he had nothing to do with it and may answer questions at a public inquiry.
Abdalraouf Abdallah, 28, who appeared before the inquiry, said he was among those trying to understand why the bomber, Salman Abedi, had carried out the attack and promised he would give evidence if his legal team were given documents about the case.
Abedi killed 22 people and injured more than 1,000 when he blew himself up at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017. Abdallah is accused of having a role in exposing Abedi to extremist views and his radicalisation.
Insisting that he was a “man of his word”, British-Libyan Abdallah told the head of the inquiry on Wednesday that he was appearing “for the families” of the 22 who died. “I am not manipulating or doing anything,” he said.
“To be honest, the whole Libyan community is trying to find the truth and the community back home as well because we don’t know what happened,” he said.
Abdallah appeared before the inquiry in a wheelchair after being shot in the back while taking part in the 2011 uprising against Col Muammar Qaddafi.
Returning to live in Manchester, he remained “wholly committed” to terrorism and co-ordinated the travel of four city-based Britons to join ISIS fighters in Syria.
He was jailed in 2016 and Abedi visited him twice in prison. They communicated via a telephone smuggled into the jail. The pair discussed martyrdom, the inquiry heard. Abdallah was released from prison last year.
Prosecutors say that Abdallah has “important evidence” to give about the background to the attack but had previously refused to answer questions because he might incriminate himself.
But Abdallah claimed that he had been treated unfairly because he and his legal team had not received all the relevant documents from the inquiry before he gave evidence.
“They are the ones manipulating by putting me in a spot,” he said. “If I was given all the papers … I will have time to defend myself and go ahead with the inquiry.
“The way I have been treated by the inquiry for the last two or three years is as if I am behind it and the one who assisted it,” he said during a brief appearance.
His lawyers had previously argued that compelling him to give evidence would breach his human rights.
The chairman of the inquiry, Sir John Saunders, has ordered Abdallah to give evidence and rejected his plea to be excluded.
He said that an expert witness had suggested that Abdallah exposed Abedi to extremist views and played a role in his radicalisation and that he wanted to hear his views.
Abdallah, who had been scheduled to give evidence on Wednesday, is expected to appear at a later date after further legal arguments.
The Manchester Arena inquiry is examining the circumstances of the attack and whether any opportunities to prevent it were missed.
Salman Abedi’s younger brother, Hashem Abedi, in 2020 was jailed for a minimum of 55 years after being convicted of 22 counts of murder for his role in helping his brother to prepare the attacks.
Another brother, Ismail, who was never charged with any offence, was due to give evidence on Thursday but has left the country with no indication of when he might return. A childhood friend of Abedi, who was also due to give evidence, was arrested on Monday when he also tried to leave the country.