Manchester Arena Inquiry: Arrest warrant issued for bomber’s brother Ismail Abedi who fled UK

A warrant has been obtained by the Manchester Arena Inquiry for the arrest of the bomber’s older brother after he fled the country rather than give evidence.

Ismail Abedi has refused to give evidence about how his two younger brothers, Salman, the bomber, and Hashem, the bomb-maker, became radicalised.

Their father, Ramadan, and mother, Samia, are in Libya and have refused to cooperate with the inquiry or provide statements or evidence of any kind.

Police believe Ismail, who left the country four months ago, had a “very unhealthy interest” in ISIS, after finding material on his phone and laptops.

Paul Greaney QC, for the inquiry, told a hearing of the High Court in Manchester that it was “beyond sensible argument” that he had relevant evidence to give and the inquiry has “taken all relevant steps to secure it”.

Sir John Saunders, the inquiry chairman “not only wishes to receive the evidence but he fully intends to do so and to use all the powers available to him,” Mr Greaney said.

He identified four areas he would want the eldest sibling of the bomber to talk about.

Listing his first question, Mr Greaney said: “Was Ramadan, your father, a violent Islamist extremist and did it rub off on his sons?”

Ramadan Abedi was said to be a member of an Islamist militia called the February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade during the overthrow of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi, according to a friend of the bomber who gave evidence on Thursday.

He was also said to be associated with an Islamist group called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) in the 1990s, which had links to al Qaeda.

Salman became close friends with an ISIS recruiter called Abdalraouf Abdallah, while Abdallah was on bail, and around the same time dropped his partying lifestyle and became more religious.

“We would want to ask if that is coincidence or there is some causal connection,” Mr Greaney told the hearing.

Ismail was “port stopped” in September 2015, as he returned from his honeymoon, and the contents of his phone downloaded.

Analysis of that phone and other devices seized after the bombing revealed “much information of pro-Islamic State mindset” along with pictures of the three brothers with weapons in Libya.

The material included a 268-page document in support of ISIS and a Facebook post about the Jordanian pilot Muath al Kasasbeh, who was burned alive in a cage by ISIS.

It also included a picture of Ismail, standing outside a shop, in front of a book on ISIS, and giving a one fingered salute adopted by the group.

“We would want to ask what part he played in his brother’s radicalisation and whether his brother received training in Libya,” Mr Greaney added.

A last area involved the discovery of Ismail’s DNA on a hammer found in a Nissan Micra that Salman and Hashem had used to store their chemicals, although it was said that the DNA could have been transferred.

While he may have only limited evidence to give on the preparation for the attack, Mr Geaney said: “He undoubtedly has a significant contribution to make on how Salman Abedi became radicalised to the extent that he became a suicide bomber.

“The respondent has quite deliberately failed to comply with a section 21 notice and there needs to be a mechanism to make sure he is brought before the inquiry if and when he returns to the country.”

Rebecca Filletti, for Ismail, said: “The principle that the respondent has relevant information is not disputed, the respondent concedes that is self-evident given the familial relationship.”

However, she objected on the grounds the bench warrant was an “extreme remedy” and “there is no expectation that the respondent will be able or willing to assist the inquiry”.

Ms Filletti said the warrant made it less likely Ismail would return – although she said the comment was “in principle”, rather than on instructions from her client.

She argued that the warrant was not “necessary and proportionate” and added: “He is out of the jurisdiction and therefore any order made cannot be enforced.”

Ms Filletti pointed out there was no evidence that Ismail was involved with preparing the attack or building the bomb and was interviewed by police for two weeks at the time of the attack but never charged.

“As the court will no doubt be aware, DNA is transferable and the hammer is a moveable object,” she added.

The judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, issued the warrant and said he would give his reasons at a later date.

The inquiry first tried to get a witness statement from Ismail in May last year, but he told them he was “not able” to provide it.

On 23 July he was issued with a section 21 notice to attend an interview for the purpose of providing a witness statement addressing identified topics.

He responded three weeks later with an unsigned witness statement which “failed to address the topics with which he had been required to engage” and included the statement: “I do not wish to answer the questions sent to me.”

Among the reasons he stated was a claim of the privilege against self-incrimination.

His lawyers made an application to seek an undertaking from the attorney general that he would not be prosecuted from any evidence he gave to the inquiry, but it was turned down.

Ismail was served with a section 21 notice on 23 July, requiring him to attend the inquiry three months later, but on 28 August, he was stopped under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 at Manchester Airport.

He told police he was leaving the country for only three weeks and intended to return on 18 or 19 September. As a result, he was allowed to return the next day to catch another flight to Istanbul.

The day before he was due to give evidence, the solicitor to the inquiry emailed Ismail’s solicitor seeking confirmation that he would attend but the solicitor replied saying his client believed his attendance would give rise to a risk to himself and his family.

The next day, 21 October, the solicitor to the inquiry enquired directly with Ismail if he would be returning to Britain and asked him to identify a date on which he would give evidence but no reply has been received to the email.

At some point next year, the inquiry will become “functus officio” – meaning its job has been performed – and it is possible that Ismail may not have returned to the country by then.

As a result, the inquiry is planning a further High Court hearing in 22 April to start criminal proceedings.

Mr Greaney said that a conversation has taken place with the Crown Prosecution Service at a “high level” to ask what would happen if the chairman asked the director of public prosecutions to take on proceedings and was told there was no reason in principle why the request would be refused.

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