Manchester bombing suspect's father says son is innocent

TRIPOLI, Libya -- The father of the 22-year-old Briton who police say bombed a concert in Manchester was detained for interrogations Wednesday in the city of Tripoli. 

Ramadan Abedi, 51, earlier spoke to The Associated Press by phone and insisted that his son, Salman, was innocent and just had been preparing to go on a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. He said the last time they spoke was five days before his trip. 

"Last time I spoke to him, he sounded normal. There was nothing worrying at all until two days ago (when) I heard the news that they suspect he was the bomber," Abedi, the father of six children, said.

Abedi says Salman visited Libya a month and a half ago and only returned to Manchester after winning a cheap ticket to Umrah. He said Salman, who was in his second year of studying economics, was planning to return to Libya to spend the holy month of Ramadan with the family. He denied that his son had ever been to Syria.     

Abedi confirmed his other son, Ismail, was arrested Tuesday around Manchester by British authorities in the concert attack probe. 

"We don't believe in killing innocents. This is not us," the senior Abedi said. "We aren't the ones who blow up ourselves among innocents. We go to mosques. We recite Quran, but not that." 

According to authorities, 22 people died and nearly 120 others were wounded in the bombing at an Ariana Grande concert on Monday. Salman died in the attack at the arena. 

Who is Ramadan Abedi? 

The senior Abedi worked as a security officer under dictator Muammar Qaddafi's rule. In 1993, he fled the oil-rich North African country to Saudi Arabia after he was accused of helping Islamists by tipping them off before police raids.

He denied having ties to any of Libya's militant groups, including the Libya Islamic Fighting Group, which was linked to al Qaeda. 

"This is nonsense," he commented, adding that under Qaddafi, "anyone who went to a mosque raised question marks." 

After less than a year in Saudi Arabia, Abedi said he fled to the U.K., where he sought political asylum and lived there for 25 years. 

In 2011, Abedi returned to Libya during the mass uprising that descended into a civil war and ended with Qaddafi's ouster and death. Libya since then sank into lawlessness, with rebels turning into militias and undermining successive transitional governments. 

The Abedi family, however, is a close friend to the family of al Qaeda veteran Abu Anas al-Libi, who was snatched by U.S. special forces off a Tripoli street in 2013 then died in U.S. custody in 2015. Al-Libi was on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list and was accused of having links to the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa. 

The wife of Abu Anas told the AP that she went to college in Tripoli with Abu Ismail's wife, who was studying nuclear engineering. The two women also lived together in the U.K. for years before they returned to Libya. 

Even though the senior Abedi denied that he was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting group, former Libyan security official Abdel-Basit Haroun told the AP that the elder Abedi was a member in the 1990s of the group, which had links to al Qaeda. 

Although the LIFG disbanded, Haroun says the father belongs to the Salafi Jihadi movement, the most extreme sect of Salafism and from which al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, both hail. 

The elder Abedi has been appointed administrative manager of Tripoli Central Security forces, which answers to the U.N.-backed government. 

"My message to the world is that there are hidden hands that want to tarnish the image of Muslims who live in the west," he said.