Manchester Arena bombing inquiry told Didsbury Mosque imam received death threats

Didsbury Mosque imam said threats had been made to harm him if he delivered further sermons

A handout photo released by the Manchester Arena Inquiry in Manchester, northern England on September 8, 2020, shows suicide bomber Salman Abedi walking from Vitoria Station towards the Manchester Arena on May 22, 2017. A public inquiry into the May 22, 2017 suicide attack at the Manchester Arena, killing 22 people attending an Ariana Grande concert, by 22 year old Salman Abedi, started this week in Manchester. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Manchester Arena Inquiry " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
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An imam received death threats after delivering a sermon denouncing extremism, he told the inquiry into the Manchester Arena bombing.

Mohammed Saeed El Saeiti said he spoke at Didsbury Mosque in the city condemning ISIS in October 2014, on the day the terrorist group said it had murdered local taxi driver Alan Hemming.

Salman Abedi gave the imam a “hateful look” after the sermon, Mr El Saeti said.

An “inciteful” Facebook message by Abedi’s father, Ramadan, was also posted, urging worshippers to “isolate this man” [El Saeti] so the UK government would not shut down the mosque.

Salman Abedi killed 22 people and injured hundreds in a suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena in May 2017, after a concert by US singer Ariana Grande.

The inquiry into the attack heard the sermon also prompted a petition calling for Mr El Saeiti’s dismissal, with signatories including Abedi’s brothers, Hashem and Ismail.

Giving evidence on Wednesday, Mr El Saeiti said mosque trustees admonished him for talking about politics and warned him threats had been made to harm him if he returned to the pulpit.

“I was speaking about the sanctity of human life. So I didn’t mention political groups. I’m not affiliated with any political party, I was just basically combatting terrorism and extremism,” he said.

He said he named ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Libya-based militias Ansar Al Sharia and Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, who he referred to as “dogs of hellfire”.

At the end of the sermon, a man snatched the microphone and accused him of espousing political views, he said.

“This man was a cardiologist. I told him he should feel ashamed to defend ISIS. I did tell him in front of the congregation,” Mr El Saeiti said.

Weeks later, Salman and Hashem Abedi sat “very close” to the pulpit and he could see from Salman’s face “he was not happy with me”.

“One of the congregation told me he sent his children to sit behind them in case ‘they might do something to you’,” Mr El Saeiti said.

Shortly after, he had a second encounter with Salman in a corridor at the mosque, the inquiry heard.

“He gave me a hateful look. He showed me that he didn’t like me, basically.”

Mr El Saeiti said he went on to phone Ramadan Abedi because he believed his Facebook post had incited harm against him.

“He said to me: ‘You spoke about the brothers of Ansar Al Sharia’. He said ‘I know them, they are good people’. So I then told them they are terrorists: they behead, they kill”.

Ansar Al Sharia, which has since dissolved, was a banned terrorist group in the US at the time of his sermon and was proscribed in Britain a month later.

He said Ismail Abedi also confronted him outside Didsbury Mosque and criticised him for speaking out against “the brothers”.

Libyan-born Mr El Saeiti said, as far as he knew, the majority of Libyans who attended the mosque, also known as the Manchester Islamic Centre, were opposed to Muammar Qaddafi, the disposed dictator.

He said sympathisers of terrorist groups in Benghazi were among the congregation.

“Some of them signed the petition,” he said. “They objected to my sermon against those groups.”

Mr El Saeiti told the inquiry he had raised concerns about regular “secret meetings” of Libyan supporters of extremist organisations held at the mosque throughout 2015 and 2016. he said they had been permitted by its trustees.

Mosque chairman Fawzi Haffar has denied any such meetings took place. He said Mr El Saeiti was “a liar” who held a grudge after being made redundant.

Mr Haffar said Didsbury Mosque was “middle of the road, mainstream” and rejected any suggestion it was not doing enough to address whether members of its congregation were being radicalised.

The inquiry has heard Ismail Abedi, 28, helped with classes at Didsbury Mosque, reading the Quran in Arabic, February 2014 and July 2017.

During that time, he was in possession of “significant” ISIS-mindset material on his electronic devices.

In August this year, Ismail Abedi was allowed to leave the UK, a month after he had been summonsed to give evidence to the inquiry.

Ramadan Abedi regularly performed the call to prayer at the mosque because of his “pleasant voice” and his wife, Samia Tabbal, worked as a teacher there, the inquiry has heard.

Both are currently in Libya and remain suspects in the bombing.

Updated: November 24, 2021, 7:27 PM