Manchester bomber witness rejects claims of extremism at mosque

Fawzi Haffar denies concerns Manchester Islamic Centre attracted radical elements

The chairman of trustees at the mosque attended by the Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi has denied that the place of worship has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood or issues with extremism.

The Manchester Arena Inquiry heard that Abedi had aroused suspicion at Manchester Islamic Centre, also known as Didsbury Mosque.

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.

Mohammed El-Saeiti, a former prayer leader at the centre, has said Abedi attended some of his sermons and once gave him "hateful looks" after he gave an anti-ISIS sermon in 2014.

But Fawzi Haffar, chairman of the trustees at Manchester Islamic Centre, said he was not aware of any extremism existing at the mosque before the bombing.

"We never thought that there might be anyone who might have any radical thoughts," he told the inquiry on Tuesday. "We knew for sure there was nobody there who would be teaching any radicalism. As far as I am concerned, there was no radicalisation."

Mr Haffar denied the mosque had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and said he had never seen Abedi at the building.

"We are very clear, we are a mainstream mosque," he said. "We do not allow groups to come and hijack the mosque."

Paul Greaney QC, counsel for the inquiry, put to Mr Haffar that the day after the bombing he was told Abedi had attended the mosque repeatedly until 2016.

"I have never known the father, the mother or the Abedi children," he said.

Mr Greaney then suggested that Abedi's father, Ramadan, and his older brother, Ismail, had volunteered at the mosque between 2014 to 2017, his mother worked there as a teacher, and asked Mr Haffar how, over his four decades at the mosque, he had "never heard" of the family.

"I have never known Ramadan or seen him or Ismail," he replied.

The inquiry was told the Charity Commission visited the mosque almost a year after the bombing, examined if it was safeguarding youngsters against radicalisation and issued it with an action plan.

Mr Haffar said the mosque took the recommendations "seriously" and himself and the other trustees attended courses on how to identify extremism.

When asked why they had not done so before the watchdog's intervention, Mr Haffar told the inquiry there had been "no problems" previously.

"We thought everything was under control," he said.

"There were no incidents or problems. We did not sense anything wrong at the time.

"We were doing our best, we vetted imams. We made sure radicalisation had no place in our mosque."

He denied that the mosque provided a meeting space for extremist groups between 2014 to 2017, despite another member claiming this had happened.

It was put to him that Mustafa Graf, a Libyan who was previously locked up in his homeland for fighting, had held group meetings at the mosque for his compatriots.

The inquiry heard three convicted terrorists, Mohammed Abdallah, Abdalraouf Abdallah and ISIS poster boy and recruiter, Raphael Hostey, had attended the mosque.

When asked if the government's Prevent deradicalisation programme was the "best way to combat evil", Mr Haffar said "not everyone was of the same mind that the Prevent programme works for mosques".

The inquiry was told earlier that the Abedi brothers' father played a role in their radicalisation.

The Manchester Arena Inquiry is investigating the circumstances of the attack and whether any opportunities to prevent it were missed.

Updated: November 23rd 2021, 6:17 PM
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