CAIRO – The father and younger brother of the suspect in the Manchester concert bombing have been detained in Libya, where anti-terror authorities said the brother confessed to knowing “all the details” of the deadly plot.
Hashim Abedi, the 18-year-old brother of alleged British-born bomber Salman Abedi, 22, was detained in Tripoli Tuesday night, a spokesman for a Libyan anti-terror force said Wednesday.
The Special Deterrent force said in a statement on its Facebook page that Hashim Abedi had told investigators after his arrest that both he and his brother belonged to the Islamic State group.
“The brother was aware of all the details of the terrorist attack,” the statement said.
The father of both young men, Ramadan Abedi, 51, was detained on Wednesday shortly after telling a news agency in a phone interview from Tripoli that his son Salman, who British officials said died in the Manchester attack, was innocent and had been planning a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.
The father has not been charged and was only detained for questioning, Special Deterrent force spokesman Ahmed bin Salem said.
Prior to his detention Ramadan Abedi confirmed that British authorities had arrested another son, Ismail, 23, on Tuesday as part of 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.”
Authorities say 22 people died and nearly 120 were wounded in the bombing of the arena where U.S. pop star Ariana Grande was performing.
Ramadan Abedi said the last time he spoke to Salman was five days ago as he was getting ready for a trip to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah, a smaller pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
“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, a father of six, said.
He said 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.
The senior Abedi worked as a security officer under dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s rule. In 1993, he fled the oil-rich North African country 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-Qaida.
“This is nonsense,” he commented, adding that under Gadhafi, “anyone who went to a mosque raised question marks.”
After less than a year in Saudi Arabia, Ramadan Abedi said he fled to the U.K., where he sought political asylum and lived for 25 years.
In 2011, Abedi returned to Libya during the mass uprising that descended into a civil war and ended with Gadhafi’s ouster and death. Libya has since sank into lawlessness, with rebels turning into militias and undermining successive transitional governments.
The Abedi family, however, is close to the family of al-Qaida 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 U.S. embassies in Africa.
The wife of Abu Anas told the news agency 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 (LIFG), former Libyan security official Abdel-Basit Haroun told the news agency on Wednesday that the elder Abedi was a member in the 1990s of the group, which had links to al-Qaida.
Although the LIFG disbanded, Haroun says the father belongs to the Salafi Jihadi movement, the most extreme sect of Salafism and from which al-Qaida and the Islamic State group both hail.
Abedi has been working as the 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.