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Monday, December 7, 2020

December 07, 2020
Jailed terrorist Hashem Abedi (pictured) ©AP

(DailyMail) - Jailed terrorist Hashem Abedi has admitted for the first time his involvement in planning the Manchester Arena bombing which killed 22 people, a public inquiry has heard.
His brother Salman Abedi, 22, detonated a rucksack bomb in a foyer area of the arena, known as the City Rooms, at the end of an Ariana Grande concert, killing 22 people and injuring hundreds more on May 22, 2017.

Hashem, 23, had pleaded not guilty earlier this year to 22 counts of murder, attempted murder and plotting to cause an explosion likely to endanger life.

He did not give evidence at the Old Bailey but provided a pre-prepared defence statement in which he denied involvement, claimed to have been 'shocked' by what his brother had done and did not hold extremist views.

He went on to be convicted by a jury of all the offences and was handed 24 life sentences in August with a minimum term of 55 years before he can be considered for parole.

On October 22 Hashem was interviewed in prison where he admitted he played 'a full and knowing part', the inquiry was told.

His admission was confirmed by Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Barraclough, of Greater Manchester Police, who was the senior investigating officer in the attack probe.

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, said to him: 'You are aware, on October 22 this year, in prison serving his sentence, Hashem Abedi was interviewed by members of the inquiry legal team?'

Mr Barraclough said: 'Yes, I am.

Mr Greaney said: 'This will be news to others.

'You are aware, on October 22, during the course of that interview, Hashem Abedi admitted he had played a full part and a knowing part in the planning and preparation for the Arena attack?'

Mr Barraclough replied: 'Yes, I think that's a fair summary.'

The detective added that there is 'no doubt in my mind' that the prosecution of Abedi was 'entirely well founded'.

Mr Greaney said: 'So the point you are making is that it didn't need him to tell you that you had got it right?'

Mr Barraclough responded: 'I think we had got there with the trial.'

No other details of the prison interview were given.

Hashem Abedi declined to give evidence in his own defence for the murder of 22 people but was found guilty and sentenced to life with a minimum of 55 years, the longest ever determinate jail sentence handed down.

Although he was in Libya at the time of the attack, he had been alongside his in brother in Manchester at critical moments when chemicals were purchased and mixed to make the explosives for the device.

The inquiry was shown parts of his defence statement initially handed to police after his extradition from Libya in July last year.

He told police that had he had any idea of the attack, he would have reported it to his mother initially and then to other family members to prevent it from happening.

'I was shocked my brother had done this and felt bad for everybody. I could never have envisaged that my brother had it in him to do this to innocent people,' he said.

He said he was a practising Muslim but did not 'delve too deep into anything other than I pray and read Koran'.

'I have no interest in Daesh [ISIS] and have no sympathy or support for their ideology and extremism. I am not a member of ISIS nor do I subscribe to their way of thinking or ideology.'

The criminal trial heard that he told police that he and his brother Salman, the bomber, were two years apart at school and had a 'different sets of friends.'

'He was my older brother and made sure I was not misbehaving and was studying. He was a bit strict with me,' Abedi added.

'It has been a difficult time for me for a number of reasons,' he said. 'I could never comprehend that my brother would have committed such a devastating attack, taking not only his own life but that of 22 others and injuring many more.

'I am relieved to be back in the UK and wish to assist in this investigation as much as I can. I have asked my solicitor to prepare a statement for me as I wish to explain myself in the best way possible and assist the police as much as I am able to.'

Explaining how his fingerprints came to be on vegetable oil cans which were cut up and allegedly used as proto-types for bomb parts, Abedi said he had got them from the takeaway 'with the intention of selling [them] for scrap metal.'

He explained that he used to smoke in the back garden shed and 'whilst smoking I would touch items in the shed and would have touched cut oil drums and other items there.'

'My bike was stored there too. I used to hide my cigarettes in the shed so would have touched items whilst getting my cigarettes,' he added.

He accepted that he was present at B&Q in Stockport on March 26, 2017, when equipment used in the construction of the bomb was purchased.

'Salman told me we were purchasing these items to do the shed up. I purchased some small bags of nails but not recollect where from. These were to be used to do the shed up,' he added.

The inquiry was told that Mr Barraclough retired on the day of the conviction of Hashem Abedi on March 17 this year but has returned to Greater Manchester Police to help with the inquiry.

The inquiry continues.

The inquiry into the terror attack heard on December 2 that a worried father waiting to pick up his daughters raised the alarm over a young male with a heavy backpack acting suspiciously in the upper mezzanine level of the City Room foyer.

He told Showsec employee Mohammed Agha about his concerns 17 minutes before the blast at 10.31pm but it was not until some time after 10.20pm that Mr Agha shared the report with colleague Kyle Lawler.

Security guard Mr Lawler, who was 18 at the time, then said he tried to get through to the control room on his radio but failed and then returned to his post.

Mr Lawler previously told the inquiry that he did not approach Salman Abedi despite having a 'bad feeling' about him because he did not want to be branded a racist.

Independent security experts Colonel Richard Latham and Dr David BaMaung told the inquiry both men had 'insufficient direction on how to respond or report suspicious behaviour and encouragement to act upon it'.

The inquiry, established by Home Secretary Priti Patel in October of last year, is investigating the background circumstances before and during the tragic bombing and is expected to last into next spring.

It is hearing evidence about the arena's security arrangements, the 'planning and preparation' carried out by the Abedi brothers, the response of the emergency services, and whether the attack could have been prevented.

Giving evidence, Col Latham said: 'It is our opinion there was insufficient supervision and direction to both Agha and Lawler.

'Agha and Lawler should have been specifically and clearly told in briefings about what to do if a member of the public informed them about suspicious behaviour. It's not clear that that happened.'

Mr Agha previously told the hearing he did not believe he could leave his position outside a fire door in the City Room and failed to get the attention of his supervisor who was stood across from him.

Col Latham said Mr Agha should have had written instructions on what to do in those circumstances and that without a mobile phone, a radio and a supervisor he was put in a 'difficult situation'.

He said neither man considered Abedi much of a threat and Mr Lawler was worried about being criticised for escalating something that was not a real problem and being accused of racially profiling.

Col Latham said: 'It is very difficult when you are presented with a situation which might stop an Ariana Grande concert.

'You don't want to make the wrong call but it's actually not your call to make if you are a very junior member of staff. Your job is tell someone who is really experienced.'

Both experts agreed there would have been sufficient time to close the exit doors to the City Room if a report about a suspicious male with a backpack had been acted upon.

Dr BaMaung said 'realistically' Abedi would still have detonated his bomb but there would have been fewer casualties.

The experts also said lack of supervision was partly to blame for the 'inadequate' policing response of British Transport Police (BTP).

No officers were in the City Room when concertgoers departed, prolonged meal breaks were taken by officers and no-one was patrolling Victoria station before Abedi entered the City Room and hid for an hour in a CCTV blind spot, the inquiry has heard.

Dr BaMaung said: 'I believe that it would be unfair to purely put the blame on the junior officers. I believe they did make grave errors, but I think that was down to lack of supervision as well.'

Other criticisms made by the experts were there was no proper risk assessment of the terrorist threat by arena operators SMG, arena security providers Showsec and BTP, and there was no effective system in place to identify Abedi's hostile reconnaissance of the venue.

CCTV monitoring was also 'insufficient', with a failure to notice Abedi with his 'unusually large and heavy backpack which affected his gait', that he was overdressed for the weather, looked nervous, did not fit the audience profile and spent an extended period of time in the City Room.

The experts also found there was a failure to understand and need to complete a pre-egress check on the mezzanine.

No security checks were made on the mezzanine where Abedi hid for an hour before he walked across the City Room with his shrapnel-laden rucksack and set his bomb off, the inquiry has heard.


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