As the investigation into Salman Abedi's deadly suicide bombing expands, discrete details about his motives and state of mind emerge with the most expansive analysis to date just released by the WSJ, which shows the ISIS sympathizer, terrorist and mass killer as a confused young man, the byproduct of a destroyed nation, who - when all is said and done - wanted revenge according to his sister, who is quoted as saying that “he saw children—Muslim children—dying everywhere, and wanted revenge. He saw the explosives America drops on children in Syria, and he wanted revenge."
As the WSJ chronicles, just days before Salman Abedi blew himself up and killed 22 people outside a Manchester concert on Monday, he told his parents he was leaving their home in Libya to go on a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, despite having other plans. "Abedi grew up in a world that straddled middle-class Britain and the Libya of his parents, both before and after the chaotic collapse of strongman Moammar Gadhafi’s regime" is how WSJ authors describe his troubled formative years.
And while he may have had a troubled childhood, aside from some traumatic encounters it is difficult to see just what set him off over the edge, and what, if anything, was the moment that defined his fracture.
In 2011, when Abedi was still a teenager, he traveled to Libya and fought alongside his father in a militia known as the Tripoli Brigade to oust Gadhafi as the revolts of the Arab Spring swept North Africa and the Middle East, a family friend said. The militia battled in Libya’s western mountains and played an important role in the fall of Tripoli to rebel forces that year.
Abedi and his mother returned to Britain in 2014, the family friend said. The young man enrolled at Manchester’s University of Salford in 2015 to study business administration. He studied for a year before effectively dropping out, according to a university spokesman.
Few were as surprised by Abedi's transformation from a troubled youth to a deadly monster as Abedi’s sister, Jomana Abedi, who said her brother was kind and loving and that she was surprised by what he did this week. She said she thought he was driven by what he saw as injustices.
“I think he saw children—Muslim children—dying everywhere, and wanted revenge. He saw the explosives America drops on children in Syria, and he wanted revenge,” she said. “Whether he got that is between him and God.”
Abedi suffered a personal tragey in May 2016 when an 18-year-old friend of Salman’s, Abdul Wahab Hafidah, also a Briton of Libyan descent, died after being run down by a car and then stabbed in Manchester.
"Abedi viewed the attack as a hate crime, the family friend said, and grew increasingly angry about what he considered ill-treatment of Muslims in Britain."
That may well have been the moment when Abedi fell into the abyss: “I remember Salman at his funeral vowing revenge,” the Abedi family friend said. After that the soon-to-be-killer became increasingly religious and interested in extremist groups. A cousin, who declined to be named, said Abedi’s parents worried he was headed toward violence.
“We knew he was going to cause trouble,” the family friend said. “You could see that something was going to happen, sooner or later.”
More details from the WSJ:
Born in Manchester on New Year’s Eve in 1994, Abedi grew up playing soccer with his brothers in the street and went to school at the local Burnage Academy for Boys.
In Manchester, neighbors remember a family that didn’t mix much with others. On Fridays, they could be seen walking out of their house in traditional Muslim dress to attend a mosque in a converted church nearby. People at the mosque remember Abedi’s father, Ramadan, sometimes performing the call to prayer, and his brother, Ismail, attending. They said Abedi wasn’t a regular.
His older brother, Ismail, worked as a computer engineer at the headquarters of the Park Cake Bakery, a big British baker with around 2,000 employees. He lived with his wife in an apartment near the Abedi family home in south Manchester. The building was searched by police on Tuesday and Ismail Abedi was arrested nearby.
Akram Ramadan, 49, who lives upstairs, said Ismail Abedi “was a talkative guy who would always say hello.” He described Ismail as “a regular Joe,” adding that he was “definitely a Manc”—a local colloquialism for people from Manchester.
As reported earlier, Abedi’s younger brother, Hashem, was arrested in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Wednesday, and confessed that the pair were members of Islamic State and involved in the attack. Investigators are also looking into the possibility that Abedi went to Syria before the attack, one Western security official said.
Abedi's radicalization was a shock to those close to him: in an interview before being detained, Abedi's father, Ramadan, told the Associated Press: “We don’t believe in killing innocents. This is not us.”
Ramadan also told the AP his son had never been to Syria. It was impossible to independently confirm the Libyan authorities’ assertion about Hashem Abedi’s confession, or to ascertain the conditions under which it was made. One thing appears certain: for whatever reason, Abedi did it. On Monday evening, Salman Abedi was captured on security cameras, carrying a bag and walking in the foyer of the Manchester Arena where American pop star Ariana Grande was wrapping up her concert.
Which brings up the eternal question, at least among libertarians: would Abedi have engaged in Monday's tragic mass if, as the WSJ notes, he had not witnessed the sequence of events that was started with the US overthrow of the Libyan regime, and culminated with the US proxy war in Syria meant to overthrow Assad just so a Qatari gas pipeline can cross the nation, and free Europe from Gazprome's quasi-monopolistic clutches. And if so, while one can debate who is fundamentally at fault for the terrorist incident, especially if it was indeed "revenge", the bigger question is how and when does the sequence of mindless deaths ever end. The answer, not just in this case but in countless generational vendettas in both the Middle East and across the world, remains elusive.
As for whether Abedi got his revenge by killing 22 innocent people, among them many children, his sister was laconic: "that is between him and God.”