Wednesday 22 November 2017

Landlord of Manchester bomber 'thought he was doing witchcraft' in rented flat

Main: Armed police and troops patrol the streets of London; inset: Suicide bomber Salman Abedi
Main: Armed police and troops patrol the streets of London; inset: Suicide bomber Salman Abedi

Jack Hardy, Press Association

A FLAT used by Manchester bomber Salman Abedi was found by its landlord with a stench of chemicals and disabled smoke alarms, a friend said.

The 22-year-old mass murderer was thought to have stayed in the flat in Blackley, north of Manchester city centre, until around six weeks before his attack.

Landlord Aimen Elwafi found the property with children's stickers on the walls, a metal rod in the bath, material cut up and the electricity turned off, friend Mohammed El-Hudarey told the BBC.

A window in the flat appeared not to have been opened for two months, he added.

It fuelled speculation Abedi used the tower block property, which the landlord allegedly sublet despite it breaching his tenancy agreement, to build the device which slaughtered crowds on Monday.

But the discovery did not provoke alarm at the time, with the landlord suspecting Abedi might have been practising black magic.

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi. Picture: AP
Suicide bomber Salman Abedi. Picture: AP

"We didn't even think 1% he was a terrorist or a bomb-maker. We thought he must have been a drug dealer or doing witchcraft," Mr El-Hudarey told the broadcaster.

Abedi moved into the address around three-and-a-half months ago, he added, later claiming in a late-night call he was "flying abroad" and would be moving out.

Mr Elwafi was said to have only realised his tenant's true intentions when his identity was published in the wake of the atrocity.

He went to police with his information, having reportedly been misled by the British-born bomber, who claimed he was a student and delivery driver.

"He was shocked and in a bad situation. Very upset. There were tears coming from his eyes," the friend said.

Meanwhile, the terror threat level has been reduced as fresh arrests and raids have been carried out linked to bombing.

Troops will be gradually withdrawn from the streets from Monday onwards, having been drafted in to bolster police numbers, Prime Minister Theresa May said.

The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) increased the terror threat level to "critical" - its highest level - meaning a further terror attack was considered "imminent".

It has now been reduced to "severe", meaning an attack is "highly likely".

Speaking after a meeting of the government's Cobra emergency committee, Mrs May said the decision had been taken after "a significant amount of police activity" over the last 24 hours.

She said: "The public should be clear about what this means - a threat level of severe means an attack is highly likely. The country should remain vigilant."

The massacre at the Manchester Arena carried out by Salman Abedi, in which 22 people were killed, was the worst terrorist atrocity to hit Britain since the July 7 attacks in London in 2005.

The terror threat had been at critical for the first time in a decade.

Mrs May also said Operation Temperer, allowing the military to be deployed to protect key sites, will be rolled back after the Bank Holiday.

She said: "To provide maximum reassurance to the public Operation Temperer will continue to operate until the Bank Holiday concludes.

"Then from midnight on Monday onwards there will be a well planned and gradual withdrawal of members of the armed forces who will return to normal duties."

The de-escalation came as a street in Manchester's Moss Side was evacuated by counter-terror officers.

Boscombe Street was said to been cleared on Saturday morning, with one witness describing a bomb-disposal van parked at the junction with Yew Tree Road.

An address in the area was being searched by detectives as they sought to close the net on the suspected terror cell behind Abedi.

Yamma Wu, 29, said she had been ordered not to leave her house by officers.

"I can see police cars outside the street and they are not allowing people out or in and there is an evacuation in this area, but because I have got a little baby with me they told me I could say inside, but I could not go out," she told the Press Association.

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