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In Manchester, Libyan Community Grapples With Impact Of Suicide Bombing

May 26, 2017
Originally published on May 26, 2017 8:31 pm
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British police say they've made immense progress in their investigation into Monday night's suicide bombing in Manchester. They say they've captured a large part of a terror network operating in the city. Nine people are now in custody.

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Meanwhile, Manchester's Libyan community is trying to understand why one of its own, Salman Abedi, detonated the bomb that killed 22 people. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from Manchester.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Salman Abedi's father, Ramadan, used to perform the call to prayer here at the Didsbury Mosque. Salman's brother, Ismail, who's reportedly in police custody, taught the Quran. Members say they didn't see much of Salman. And today at Friday prayers, Mohammad el-Khayat, the director of trustees, defended the mosque's reputation.

MOHAMMAD EL-KHAYAT: If we are radicalizing people, we would not have opened our doors day and night, inviting people to walk in without any appointment. If we are radicalizing people, the police would be the first to know.

LANGFITT: In fact, one of the mosque's imams, Mohammed Saeed, has said he warned police about Salman Abedi. Fawzi Haffer, a mosque trustee, relayed Saeed's story, which the imam has shared with British media.

FAWZI HAFFAR: When the imam was giving an anti-radicalization sermon, preaching on saying that radicalism is against our values, he said that he thought he saw hate in the suspect's face.

LANGFITT: Do you know from talking to the imam if the police followed up much?

HAFFAR: We understand from the media and from the home secretary, Mrs. Amber Rudd, that they did follow this.

LANGFITT: As Haffar continues, a man passes by on the sidewalk outside the redbrick mosque and interrupts.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You should be ashamed of yourselves.

HAFFAR: And they did...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Absolute scum.

LANGFITT: How often does that happen around here or to you?

HAFFAR: Whenever any terrorist act happen around the world, especially in Europe, we sometimes have this kind of talk, people swearing.

LANGFITT: Haffar says he lets it go. British officials say they were aware of Abedi but thought of him as only a peripheral figure. Now they believe he was part of a terrorist network. Abedi, who was born in Britain, was part of a large Libyan exile community in the city.

HASHEM BEN GHALBON: The Libyan community have been here. I've been here for over 40 years.

LANGFITT: Hashem Ben Ghalbon attends the Didsbury mosque. He's also a founding member of Libyan Constitutional Union, which opposed former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Like many Libyans here, Ben Ghalbon fled the country because of Gaddafi. But during the Arab Spring and following Gaddafi's overthrow, hundreds in Manchester returned, including Ramadan Abedi and much of his family. Ben Ghalbon says he didn't know Ramadan Abedi well, but his family seemed to fit a pattern of those that never assimilated.

BEN GHALBON: The circle who sort failed to appreciate the society that they are living in and failed to raise their kids with that much, you know, responsibility and awareness. And you know, OK, Libyan roots or Muslim roots, but Manchester Community and Manchester upbringing - they failed to bring the two together.

LANGFITT: Salman Abedi also spent a lot of time in Libya in recent years according to the local community association. Sources said he'd returned from Libya just days before the bombing. Ben Ghalbon says many young men of Libyan descent here are torn between two worlds.

BEN GHALBON: And that was led to the children having an identity crisis and falling victims and pray to the demons, the devils who play with their minds and end up in the disaster that happened last Monday.

LANGFITT: The terror level in the U.K. remains critical. But counterterrorism officials have sounded more confident recently, urging people to go out and enjoy the upcoming holiday weekend. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Manchester. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.