Imam from mosque where Manchester bomber prayed denies calling for 'armed jihad' six months before attack

Mustafa Graf had previously urged all the followers to 'take action' at the Didsbury Mosque in Manchester on December 16, 2016

                            Imam from mosque where Manchester bomber prayed denies calling for 'armed jihad' six months before attack
(Source:Getty Images)

An imam in the mosque where Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi and his family used to pray, has denied encouraging "armed jihad" during a sermon.

BBC reported that Mustafa Graf had previously urged all the followers to "take action" at the Didsbury Mosque in Manchester on December 16, 2016.

The incident took place six months before Abedi detonated a suicide bomb at the Ariana Grande concert, which claimed the lives of 22 people. It is not clear whether Abedi or anyone from his family had gone to the mosque the day the sermon was delivered, but it has been reported that he bought a ticket for the Ariana Grande concert just 10 days after it. It was reported that Graf had delivered the sermon on the suffering of the people in Syria.

BBC obtained the recording of the sermon and has given to law enforcement authorities, who say they are reviewing it "to establish if any criminal offences have been committed".

During the sermon, Graf had allegedly called for jihad, which is most commonly used as a term to represent holy war, and according to the BBC, Graf had called this a "source of pride and dignity". The sermon was delivered at the time of the bombing that took place in Aleppo and it included prayers for "Mujahideen" which is a term that is used to describe a group that is fighting an armed jihad overseas.

The imam has said: "We ask Allah to grant them Mujahideen - our brothers and sisters right now in Aleppo and Syria and Iraq - to grant them victory. Jihad for the sake of Allah is the source of pride and dignity for this nation." In another passage from the sermon, Graf had said that "now it is time to act and do something". He said: "Brothers and sisters, it is time to act, not only to talk... Lots of brothers stay behind unfortunately, they love Islam and Muslims but they do nothing about the support of their brothers and sisters."

Graf is reported to have criticized Europe, America, and the "so-called civilized world" for looking on as the war consumed Syria. He said: "They know that Iran, Russia, and the militias are killing humans in Syria and they do nothing. Well, in fact, they helped Iranian, Russian and others to kill Muslims over there." 

Abedi and his family are reported to have attended the mosque regularly and his father even led the call to prayer sometimes. In the days that followed the attack on the concert, Graf came out and assured the public that the mosque did not have the same views as Abedi. He had posted on Facebook: "As a community, we have lost many hundreds of people who bravely fought and defeated Isis in Sirte, Libya, only a few months ago, and so we are affected by grief again."

Two Muslim scholars, however, said that they both believe the language that was used during the sermon indicated a call for armed jihad. Shaykh Rehan, an Islamic scholar, told the BBC: "He's giving them the narrative of them against us. The jihad he's referring to here is actually being on the battlefield, there's no if's and no buts in this. He is psychologically and practically brainwashing young people into either traveling or to do something to take action."

Head of Islamic Studies at Quilliam, Usama Hasan, agreed with Rehan and told the BBC that "from the context and the way these texts [the religious passages quoted within the sermon] are used they are clearly referring to military jihad, to armed jihad". He continued: "I have known the Islamic discourse for pretty much 40 years, from being a child in this country and worldwide, and the Mujahideen are the group fighting armed jihad." 

The BBC, as a part of their investigation, discovered links between the young bomber and the Imam. Abedi is said to have attended a demonstration in Manchester against a secular Libyan General who was fighting the Islamist militia in 2015. The event had been organized by the 17th of February Forum protest group, and Graf is one of the leaders. Months after that, the exact same group is reported to have held another protest in London where Abedi was caught on camera holding up a banner.

According to the BBC, at least five men who had attended the sermon had ended up joining the fight in Syria or had been put in prison for supporting ISIS.

The trustees of the Didsbury Mosque said that the Imam's sermon had only been putting a spotlight on the suffering of the Syrians and that his words of "jihad" and "mujahideen" had been misinterpreted. They said in a statement: "We do not tolerate or instigate any form of preaching that breaches both Islamic principles and the laws of England and Wales."

The mosque further said: "The term jihad was used in its wider meaning; 'to strive and struggle' and in this case aid to those being oppressed. There was no call for any military Jihad (qital).

"Nor was there any comment which could in anyway be construed to suggest that Britain or British people should be targeted or attacked. The focus was on the behaviour of the Syrian regime and its victims.

"Didsbury Mosque does not encourage anyone to go and fight in any military struggle."

However, a spokesman from the BBC press office said: "We stand by our journalism."

Greater Manchester Police said: "We have been handed the material from the BBC following their broadcast and will now review it to establish if any criminal offences have been committed."