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Shame, shock and revulsion - Libyans living in the UK face up to the fallout

 

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As investigators continue to piece together how and why 23-year-old Manchester-born Salman Abedi had carried out the deadliest attack on British soil since the London bombings in 2005, members of the city’s thriving and diverse Libyan diaspora population have struggled with their own questions about what could have motivated him. Picture: PA

As investigators continue to piece together how and why 23-year-old Manchester-born Salman Abedi had carried out the deadliest attack on British soil since the London bombings in 2005, members of the city’s thriving and diverse Libyan diaspora population have struggled with their own questions about what could have motivated him. Picture: PA

As investigators continue to piece together how and why 23-year-old Manchester-born Salman Abedi had carried out the deadliest attack on British soil since the London bombings in 2005, members of the city’s thriving and diverse Libyan diaspora population have struggled with their own questions about what could have motivated him. Picture: PA

Such a large number of diaspora Libyans call Manchester home that many quip it is the second capital of Libya. For more than four decades, thousands of Libyans have moved to the city, some to pursue further education, some to work as doctors and academics, some to escape persecution from the Gaddafi regime because they were political dissidents.

They have raised children and grandchildren with Mancunian accents, their lives woven into the fabric of Manchester. Some of the younger generation have even gone on to play for local football clubs like Manchester United and City.

When news broke that a pop concert in one of Manchester's biggest venues had been targeted in a bombing on Monday night, my social media feeds began filling up with messages of shock and revulsion from Libyans who live in the city or have some connection through friends or relatives.

Those feelings were compounded the following day when it was confirmed that a young Briton of Libyan descent was the one who detonated a bomb packed with nails, bolts and ballbearings at the Manchester Arena, killing 22 and wounding scores of others.

As investigators continue to piece together how and why 23-year-old Manchester-born Salman Abedi had carried out the deadliest attack on British soil since the London bombings in 2005, members of the city's thriving and diverse Libyan diaspora population have struggled with their own questions about what could have motivated him.

The son of parents who had fled Gaddafi's Libya and sought political asylum in the UK in the 1990s, Abedi had, by most accounts, become a troubled and troubling young man in recent years. He was said to have been deeply affected by the death of a friend who had become caught up in a gangland feud. He became withdrawn but also sparred aggressively with figures at the local mosque after he expressed hardline views. Some who knew him were worried enough to report their concerns to the authorities.

Few other concrete details of Abedi's path to radicalisation have emerged - curiously, despite claiming responsibility for the attack, Isil has not released the usual hagiography that accompanies such claims - but key to the investigation will be the three weeks Abedi spent in Libya just days before the bombing, travelling via Germany and Turkey. There are questions over whether he had any contact with Isil or other militant groups while in Libya and whether he received any bomb-making training while there. His father and brother have been detained in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Those who are holding his brother claim he admitted during interrogation that he and Salman were members of Isil and had been in regular contact.

A strong Libyan connection to the blast is a worrying prospect for European security services who had feared that Isil affiliates in Libya, though weakened and dispersed since their routing from what had once been their stronghold in the coastal town of Sirte, could still use the chaotic country as a launch pad for an attack on the continent.

In January, then-US defence secretary Ash Carter said air strikes targeting a number of camps south of Sirte that month were aimed at Isil members believed to be planning operations in Europe. At the time, officials suggested the Tunisian militant who had carried out the Berlin truck attack the previous month had links with Isil networks inside Libya.

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As investigators probe the precise links between Abedi and dynamics inside Libya - where a bitter political power struggle created a vacuum in which Isil and other groups expanded from 2014 - members of the wider Libyan diaspora in the UK fret about the fallout for their community.

Fawaz Haffar, a trustee at the Manchester mosque popular with Libyans where Abedi and his family worshipped, told reporters this week he had received reports of "terrible anti-Muslim acts, ranging from verbal abuse to acts of criminal damage to mosques". One Libyan I know told me his mother - who wears the headscarf - was heckled on the street in Manchester. Another recounted his upset over a stranger's response when he told him where he was from: "Someone like you did something terrible in Manchester this week."

Some worry they will face the kind of negativity Manchester's Irish community experienced for some time after the IRA bombed the city centre in 1996. An estimated 10,000 diaspora Libyans live in Manchester, many of them old enough to remember a time when some in Britain associated Libya with the murder of police officer Yvonne Fletcher, shot dead outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984, or the Lockerbie bombing four years later. "What happened this week does not and will not represent Libyans or Muslims in this country," wrote one young British-Libyan from Manchester on Facebook.

"The attacker acted by himself and his actions only represent himself. They don't represent or shape who we are. We are better than that. Our community is better than that. Muslims are better than that."


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