Manchester bomber's father says he did not expect attack

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The father of the bomber who killed 22 concert-goers in an attack in Manchester told Reuters in the Libyan capital on Wednesday that he had last spoken to his son some five days ago, by phone, and "everything was normal."

Ramadan Abedi, who was detained by a Tripoli counterterrorism force during the interview, said his son Salman had told his family that he was heading on pilgrimage to Mecca.

"I spoke to him about five days ago ... there was nothing wrong, everything was normal," Abedi said. He did not say where his son was at the time.

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Timeline of the Manchester Arena attack

At 10:54 p.m. local time, Greater Manchester Police announced via Twitter that officers were responding to "reports of an incident at Manchester Arena," where singer Ariana Grande was finishing her concert.

(Photo via REUTERS/Jon Super)
Police responded to reports of an incident at Manchester Arena. Please stay away from the area. More details to follow....

Manchester has a population of 2.55 million people and the arena is near the centre.

(Image via Google Maps)

The arena is just over 200 miles away from London.

(Image via Google Maps)

There was chaos in the arena while people scrambled to escape, many holding pink balloons that had been released during the show.

The situation was updated to a "serious incident" at 11:29 p.m. local time. People were encouraged to avoid the area as ambulances and emergency services rushed to the scene.

(Photo via REUTERS/Andrew Yates)

Emergency services responding to serious incident at Manchester Arena. Avoid the area. More details will follow as soon as available
Two women wrapped in thermal blankets stand near the Manchester Arena, where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing, in Manchester, northern England, Britain, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates

The first photos of injuries began emerging from Twitter users around midnight local time.

(Photo via REUTERS/Andrew Yates)

Pictures of the injured beginning to come out of Manchester (credit: Joel Goodman) https://t.co/9LebrHAmby

Police said first responders were "working tirelessly" and there were "confirmed fatalities" at the scene at 11:44 p.m. local time.

(Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
Police statement on incident at Manchester Arena https://t.co/gaKASukx9a
Due to the incident in Manchester, please only call us for life threatening emergencies at this time. Thank you.

Bomb disposal units rushed to the scene just past midnight local time.

(Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)

Police announced just past 1 a.m. local time, May 23, that 19 people had been killed following reports of an explosion. First responders tended to the dozens of injured people while ambulances took victims to six hospitals across Greater Manchester.

(Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
Latest statement on incident at Manchester Arena https://t.co/BEpLOan3dY

Police cordoned off an area near the box office of Manchester Arena. The explosion reportedly took place in the foyer or lobby of the venue.

(Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)

As the night stretched on, police began escorting fans (including many young teenage girls) and their parents to safety.

(Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)

Police escort members of the public from the Manchester Arena on May 23, 2017 in Manchester, England. There have been reports of explosions at Manchester Arena where Ariana Grande had performed this evening. Greater Manchester Police have have confirmed there are fatalities and warned people to stay away from the area. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Facebook activated its safety function so people could alert their friends and family that they were safe.

(Image via Facebook)

#Manchester explosion @gmpolice statement: 19 dead and around 50 injured in the incident that's currently being tre… https://t.co/LmzzMsc5CV
Latest statement on incident at Manchester Arena @CCIanHopkins https://t.co/GEABqAk5rr
NWAS has taken 59 casualties from the Manchester Arena incident to various hospitals & treated a number of walking wounded on scene

Just after 7 a.m. local time, Manchester police confirmed that 22 people have died — some of those children.

(Photo via REUTERS/Andrew Yates)

Chief constable Ian Hopkins held another press conference to confirm that the attacker was one man who was "carrying an improvised explosive device, which he detonated causing this atrocity." The attacker also died in the explosion.

(Photo via REUTERS/Jon Super)

He added: "Emergency numbers have been established for anyone who is concerned for loved ones who may not have returned home: 0161 856 9400 or 0161 856 9900."

(Photo via REUTERS/Andrew Yates)

As Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed to suspend general election campaigning on Tuesday, Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham described the attack as "an evil act."

(Photo credit Amer Ghazzal / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

The prime minister was due to chair a government emergency Cobra committee meeting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday. The term Cobra, an acronym for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, is usually attended by government ministers along with emergency, security, and intelligence officials. Pictured arriving at Downing Street is Home secretary Amber Rudd.

(Photo via REUTERS/Toby Melville)

Speaking in Israel, U.S. President Donald Trump branded the attacker a "loser" and called for his "wicked ideology" to be "completely obliterated." He said: "We stand in absolute solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom. I won't call them monsters because they would like that term. I will call them, from now on, losers, because that's what they are."

(Photo via REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
At the request of @JunckerEU, flags at half-mast in @EU_Commission in solidarity with the British people… https://t.co/AHKQTbW2oY

Messages of sympathy and horror from celebrities all over the the world flooded Twitter.

A number of prominent politicians and people in the business world have also expressed their condolences.

Ariana Grande reportedly suspended the European leg of her world tour.

TMZ reported that she was "inconsolable" and "in hysterics" when she learned of the casualties following the explosion.

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation)

Following a meeting of the Cobra committee, the prime minister condemned what she called a "callous terrorist attack." She said that security services believe they know the identity of the attacker, but will not release his name until it has been confirmed. She said it was "among the worst terrorism we have experienced in the United Kingdom." May will now travel to Manchester to meet with those dealing with the aftermath of the attack.

(Photo credit DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

At around 11.30 a.m. reports emerged of crowds running away from Manchester's Arndale shopping centre.

(Photo via REUTERS/Darren Staples)
Police say it's a false alarm sparked by someone panicking unnecessarily. Outbreaks like this often happen in wake of a terror attack.
#Breaking Man, 23, arrested in connection with Manchester Arena bomb attack, @gmpolice say https://t.co/Y6On1vMA4R

Shortly after midday, Queen Elizabeth II released a statement expressing her "deepest sympathy to all who have been affected by this dreadful event."

(Via The Royal Family)

Police started to release names of the deceased around midday. The first victim named was 18-year-old Georgina Callander, pictured. Eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos was later named deceased.

At around 1.45 p.m. news agencies reported that police had raided a house in south Manchester. Pictured is an armed police officer standing outside a residential property near to where a man was arrested in the Chorlton area of Manchester.

(Photo via REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth)
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Another of Abedi's sons, Hashem, was detained on Tuesday evening in Tripoli on suspicion of links to Islamic State, said Ahmed Bin Salem, a spokesman for the Special Deterrence Force, also known as Rada.

"We have evidence that he is involved in Daesh (Islamic State) with his brother. We have been following him for more than one month and a half," Bin Salem said. "He was in contact with his brother and he knew about the attack."

Rada said Hashem, 20, had traveled from London to Tripoli on April 16.

British interior minister Amber Rudd said earlier that the bomber had recently returned from Libya. Her French counterpart Gerard Collomb said the man had links with Islamic State and had probably visited Syria as well.

But Ramadan Abedi said he was sure Salman had not been a member of the jihadist group.

"Salman doesn't belong to any organization," he said. "The family is a bit confused because Salman doesn't have this ideology, he doesn't hold these beliefs."

"I didn't expect that to happen, never," Abedi said, adding that he thought there were "hidden hands" behind the attack.

"We condemn these terrorist acts on civilians, innocent people," he said.

"DOGS"

Abedi also said he was certain Salman had not been in Syria. "I checked his two passports and there wasn't anything in them, he didn't travel to Syria," he said.

While Reuters was interviewing Abedi, several unmarked vehicles carrying heavily armed Rada forces drove up to the family home in the Tripoli suburb of Ayn Zara and detained him.

Family members shouted at the Rada men, calling them "dogs," as Abedi was handcuffed and driven away.

Rada did not give a reason for his arrest. Libyan media and bloggers reported alleged connections between Abedi and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a militant Islamist organization formed by Libyans who traveled to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight Soviet troops and later plotted to topple former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. A Facebook page that appears to belong to Abedi shows links to several former LIFG members.

Some LIFG members and supporters fled Libya in the 1990s to Britain and like Abedi settled in Manchester, home to a large Libyan community. Abedi reportedly returned to Libya in 2008.

"I condemn anyone who says I belong to the LIFG, but I praise them," Abedi said.

Rada is one of the largest of the armed groups that have held power on the ground in Tripoli since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Gaddafi.

Nominally aligned with the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), it has specialized in breaking up Islamic State cells in the Libyan capital.

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