For those who argue that Britain should blindly accept refugees, the family history of Salman Abedi must make somewhat uncomfortable reading. Salman was born in Britain in 1994 to a couple who had newly arrived as refugees from Libya. At the time, such people were welcomed with open arms because they were opponents of President Gaddafi, whose embassy staff had killed PC Yvonne Fletcher in London in 1984, who was suspected of commissioning the Lockerbie bomb and who was generally considered to be one of the world’s most evil dictators. On the principle of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, rather little seems to have been asked of Gaddafi’s opponents.
In reality, as we have discovered with Isis in Syria, that is not a very good principle on which to run an asylum system. Sometimes your enemy’s enemy can turn be an even greater foe. In the case of the Abedi family, they appear to have been tied up with an organisation called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Salman Abedi’s father Ramadan Abedi, who was arrested this week by what passes for a Libyan state, denied in an interview with Reuters this morning that he is a member of LIFG – he said he commended them but he didn’t belong to them. An acquaintance of the family in Manchester claims to the contrary that Ramadan was a senior member of the group. Either way, LIFG is a group which has long had links with al-Qaeda – which was sufficient for the US state department in 2004 to declare it to be a terrorist organisation.
What is clear is that Salman Abedi was born into a family which had fled Libya in the hope that Gaddafi could be overthrown and an Islamic state (if the not the Islamic state as conceived by Isis) could be founded there in place of Gaddafi’s regime. In 2011, when rebels seemed in a position to overthrow Gaddafi, Abedi returned to fight for that cause. He has lived there ever since, with his sons joining him there at times. While family friends claim Ramadan was concerned about Salman’s extremism, and confiscated his passport before returning it to him on the pretext he was going on a pilgrimage to Mecca, a disused family Facebook account suggests that the sons were encouraged into militaristic training, posing with guns and described as ‘young lions’.
What seemed an act of humanity and political expedience in allowing anti-Gaddafi activists to settle in Britain has rebounded on us horribly. No-one wants to deny sanctuary to genuine refugees fleeing terror but at the very least we might be a bit more sceptical about rolling out the welcome mat to people who are fighting regimes that we oppose, to ask rather more questions of the groups they may be affiliated with. They might turn out to be worse than our mutual enemy.