A convicted terrorist who was a friend of the Manchester Arena bomber has denied being “behind” the attack and has complained of his treatment by an ongoing public investigation.
Abdalrauf Abdullah, 28, told a hearing that he was a “man of his word” and was not trying to “manipulate” legal procedures to avoid giving evidence.
He said he felt like he was being “prosecuted” amid questions over his relationship with Salman Abedi, and wanted to defend himself.
“I am here for the families because as a community in Manchester we are trying to understand what happened,” Abdullah said in interrogation.
“For the past two or three years I have been treated as if I am behind it and as if I am helping it.”
Abdullah was ordered to appear on Wednesday after refusing to answer questions from the prison where he is serving a sentence for helping IS fighters travel to Syria.
It came a day after the investigation revealed that the bomber’s older brother, Ismail Abedi, had fled Britain before the trial, where he was due to provide evidence for a public inquiry.
Childhood friend Ahmed Tagdi was arrested on Monday after trying to leave the country days before his appearance.
Abdullah was taken from prison to a trial in Manchester and sat in the witness box visited by relatives of the victims.
His legal representatives applied to delay his evidence so that they could read material, including an expert report, which found that Abdullah had “crafted Salman Abedi into a violent Islamic extremist worldview”.
During a heated exchange between a barrister and the chairman of the inquiry, Sir John Saunders, Abdullah intervened to say that he would answer some questions.
“If you want to ask me questions, go ahead,” he said to the chair. “You’re talking about me like I’m not here.”
Sir John asked him after seeing the requested documents whether he had “intended to cooperate with the investigation”.
Abdullah replied: “If I’m treated fairly, to be honest it doesn’t sound like an investigation to me, … it looks like I’m being prosecuted.”
He said he was only given “bits and bobs” of evidence, including his phone contact with Abedi, and “everything that needs to be disclosed” before answering questions and legal advice.
“I need time with my lawyers to give advice and then we will move on,” Abdullah said. “I’m a man of my word so if I say something to you it means it’s true. We’re not here to manipulate anything… It’s putting me in one place, basically accusing me manipulation.”
Sir John said Abdullah was not being prosecuted and wanted the investigation to help him “reach the truth” about how the bombing happened.
He accepted a request to delay the full inquiry, but said he would set a strict deadline for lawyers to come to an agreement about what evidence was shown to Abdallah.
Sir John told Abdullah’s lawyers that he “cannot simply be told ‘not to answer any question'”, but can exercise his right against self-blame if appropriate.
Peter Weatherby QC, who represented the families of the seven victims, said there was “an air of desperation”.
John Cooper QC, representing another group of bereaved families, accused Abdullah’s lawyers of misrepresenting the investigation as a criminal trial.
she added. “The position of the families is that we should be impartial to Abdullah but it should not be assumed that this investigation will tolerate [unnecessary delays] or can be manipulated. “
Duncan Atkinson QC said the families he represented would “support moving forward with this as quickly as possible”.
Sir John said he would fix a new date for Abdullah to give evidence at the earliest.
He continued: “This investigation is trying to reach the truth, we believe Abdullah may be able to provide helpful evidence and there is a presumption that what is being done is by preventing me from reaching the truth.” Trying to stop Abdallah from giving evidence.”
The investigation had previously heard that Abdullah, whose parents were also Libyan refugees, lived in the same area of Manchester where Abedi attended the same school and shared many colleagues.
He was paralyzed while fighting against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in the Libyan civil war and was jailed in 2016 for helping IS fighters travel to Syria.
Prosecutor Paul Graney QC said Abdullah “has a high degree of knowledge of Salman Abedi’s bigotry and potential relevance in relation to the planning and preparation of the arena attack”.
“He was in touch with Salman Abedi personally and electronically since 2014,” he added.
“In addition, he is attributed by Dr. Matthew Wilkinson, the expert directing the investigation on radicalization, to, as he says, framing Salman Abedi in a violent Islamic extremist world view.”
Abedi traveled to HMP Belmarsh in London to meet Abdallah while on remand in 2015, then in January 2017 at HMP Altcors in Liverpool.
The following month, officials at the prison operated by the private G4S found that Abdullah had an illegal mobile phone in his cell, with calls to Abedi’s number appearing.
Abdullah, who denies any involvement in Abedi’s grooming or the Arena attack, was released from prison in November on license before being recalled in January.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /