Mosque attended by Manchester suicide bomber 'turned a blind eye to extremism', inquiry hears

Didsbury Mosque has come under severe criticism with calls for its status as a charity to be reviewed

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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 heard.

Didsbury Mosque in south Manchester came under severe criticism on Monday at the Manchester Arena public inquiry into the terror 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 Manchester Arena attack said it was accepted the mosque was in no way linked to the bombing or the radicalisation of suicide bomber Salman Abedi, who carried out the outrage on May 22, 2017.

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

Manchester bomber Salman Abedi
Manchester bomber Salman Abedi

Salman Abedi was said to have attended the mosque and his father Ramadan and brother Ismail were also involved in positions at the mosque.

John Cooper QC, representing some of the bereaved families, said: “The vast majority of Muslim people are peace-loving, 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 described the evidence to the inquiry from Fawzi Haffar, the current chair of trustees of Didsbury Mosque, also known as Manchester Islamic Centre, as “frankly implausible”.

Mr Haffar claimed the mosque’s Islamic 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 in Syria or Libya.

However, Mr Cooper suggested he downplayed 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 “jihad”.

An Imam at the mosque, Mohammed El-Saeiti, had 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.

Salman's brother Hashem was involved in planning the bombing
Salman's brother Hashem was involved in planning the bombing

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

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 adopted a “passive” attitude and preferred to “turn a blind eye”.

This approach amounted to a “dereliction of duty” to the community by Didsbury Mosque, Mr Cooper said.

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

He added: “The families that we represent have been appalled by Didsbury Mosque’s refusal to include a clear condemnation of violence on its website.

“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.