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Manchester Bombing Probe Focuses On Libya And ISIS' Presence There


The investigation of a bombing in Manchester, England, reaches to Libya. That's where the man identified as the bomber, a British national named Salman Abedi, had relations. He visited Libya just this spring. Sudarsan Raghavan is the Cairo bureau chief for The Washington Post. He joins us via Skype from the capital, Tripoli. Welcome to the program.

SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN: Great to be here.

INSKEEP: I have to ask, what's it like to be in Tripoli right now?

RAGHAVAN: Pretty tense actually. There's been clashes this morning by rival militias, just erupted not far from my hotel. So it's a pretty grim situation. We've been hearing explosions and heavy gunfire all morning, smoke billowing from the area where the attacks have been happening.

So this is - this actually, you know, it really underscores how difficult it is for any sort of British investigation here is going to take place. You know, it's very volatile here, so if - so anything can happen. We were here for the past nine days, relatively quiet. Suddenly today, everything's exploded.

INSKEEP: OK. Given the chaos in the country, who's investigating exactly the Manchester bombing?

RAGHAVAN: Well, currently it's actually one - what we know so far is a - the Special Deterrence Force, which is a militia aligned with the Western-backed government here, is the one who has arrested - who arrested Hashem Abedi, Salman's brother, and his father, Ramadan. So they're holding them both right now, and they've been interrogating both of them.

INSKEEP: Special Deterrence Force.


INSKEEP: Very interesting. So this is like a military-type force or more of a law enforcement force?

RAGHAVAN: It's aligned with the Ministry of Interior that's run by the Western-backed government. Mind you, there are two other governments also vying for influence in Libya, so this - so they're aligned with the Western-backed one. And yeah, they're basically a militia force, and they deal with counterterrorism.

INSKEEP: OK. So they've arrested Salman Abedi's brother and father you said. What, if anything, are they telling investigators?

RAGHAVAN: So what we know so far from the Special Deterrence Force - I spoke to the spokesman recently - is that Hashem Abedi has told them that that both him and his brother were ISIS members. He also informed them that he was - that Salman had planned the attack before they had even arrived in Libya.

Both brothers had come with their father - with their parents last month and stayed here for about four weeks. But the - but Hashem told the authorities here that the bombing had been planned even before they arrived. And once Salman left for - back to Manchester on May 17, he had been in touch with them in the days before the bombing.

INSKEEP: OK. So sometimes when we've had attacks by single individuals in the last couple of years, they've pledged allegiance to ISIS just before attacking or just as they attack. But you're saying in this case, at least according to the Libyan interrogations, there seems to have been a longer contact between Salman Abedi and ISIS.

RAGHAVAN: There appears to be so. And also, I think certainly in the reporting that we've done in England as well and everywhere, it seems that there might have been a radicalization that happened even a few years back. So - but regarding his pledge to ISIS, it's unclear when exactly that happened. The authorities here aren't saying that.

All they're saying is that they - is that Hashem, the brother, confessed that he himself was an ISIS militant and was - and they - and authorities claim he was planning an attack - making an attack in Tripoli, the brother. So that's why he was arrested. So the timing of when they joined ISIS is unclear, but the authorities here are saying that they are members.

INSKEEP: And in just a couple of seconds, how big is the presence of ISIS in Libya?

RAGHAVAN: Well, currently, you know, they used to be much bigger, but they controlled Sirte, a coastal city, but they were driven out in December. Right now, they're scattered around the country. And, according to U.S. military intelligence officials, some appear to be regrouping in the south, but that's all very murky now.

INSKEEP: OK. Sudarsan Raghavan of The Washington Post reaching us by Skype from the Libyan capital Tripoli. Thanks very much.

RAGHAVAN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.