Mosque attended by Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi could be referred to regulator

It has been claimed the mosque hosted extremist sermons and failed to condemn violence, inquiry hears

Didsbury Mosque, a Victorian former Methodist chapel in a leafy suburb that was bought in 1967 by donors from the Syrian Arab community. Reuters

A mosque attended by suicide bomber Salman Abedi and his family could be referred to the Charity Commission after it turned a “blind eye” to extremism, a public inquiry has heard.

Didsbury Mosque in south Manchester came under severe criticism on Monday at the public inquiry into the Manchester Arena terrorist attack, with calls for its status as a charity to be “reviewed” by regulators.

Lawyers for the families of the 22 people murdered in the May 22, 2017 attack said it was accepted that the mosque was in no way linked to the bombing or the radicalisation of Abedi.

But it was claimed the mosque had hosted extreme sermons, failed to condemn violence and “buried its head in the sand” over radicals in its congregation.

Abedi was said to have attended the mosque and his father Ramadan and brother Ismail held positions there.

“The vast majority of Muslim people are peace-loving," said John Cooper, QC, representing some of the bereaved families. "We know that, I know that, every right-minded person knows that.

“Where pockets of extremism and violent ideology exist, it is imperative that those who seek community leadership confront and combat that extremism without hesitation or equivocation.”

Mr Cooper called the evidence to the inquiry from Fawzi Haffar, the current chair of trustees of Didsbury Mosque, also known as the Manchester Islamic Centre, “frankly implausible”.

Mr Haffar claimed the mosque’s orientation was not extreme but “middle of the road”, and he said he was not aware of any links to Libya or knowledge of worshippers going abroad to fight there or in Syria.

But Mr Cooper suggested that he played down any issues and was more concerned with protecting the mosque’s reputation than putting things right.

He said it was “concerning” and “troubling” that the mosque failed to make any condemnation of violence on its own website and had hosted speeches talking about giving money for extremism.

An imam at the mosque, Mohammed El Saeiti, delivered a sermon in October 2014 in which he explicitly condemned some terrorist groups.

But Mr El Saeiti said the trustees believed speaking up against terrorists would “provoke” its sympathisers and supporters.

The mosque then failed to support him when he faced a petition for his removal signed by, among others, Ramadan Abedi.

He said after the bombing the mosque’s solicitor, a Mr Hafezi, pressured him to not mention the Abedis’ links to it.

Mr Cooper said it showed the mosque was aware of the presence of extremist and violent sentiment among parts of the congregation, and the south Manchester Muslim community more generally.

But he said it adopted a “passive” attitude and preferred to ignore it, which amounted to a “dereliction of duty” to the community by Didsbury Mosque.

Solicitor Richard Scorer, from Slater and Gordon, who represents families of 12 of the victims of the Arena bombing, urged the inquiry to refer the mosque to the Charity Commission.

“The families that we represent have been appalled by Didsbury Mosque’s refusal to include a clear condemnation of violence on its website," Mr Scorer said.

“It is simply unacceptable for a charitable organisation to turn a blind eye to violent and extremist views in its community.”

The public inquiry, sitting in Manchester, resumes on Tuesday.

Updated: March 15, 2022, 6:01 AM