By Simon Basketter
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Did British government and Libyan regime conspire to torture suspect?

This article is over 4 years, 1 months old
Issue 2697
Libyan prime minister al-Sarraj met US secretary of state John Kerry in 2016. Al-Sarraj was later to meet Boris Johnson
Libyan prime minister Al-Sarraj met US secretary of state John Kerry in 2016. Al-Sarraj was later to meet Boris Johnson (Pic: US department of state)

The brother of the Manchester Arena bomber was tortured and it is unclear what Boris Johnson knew about it.

The murky background to the case of Hashem Abedi still remains obscure. But his conviction on 22 counts of murder means some aspects of the case can now be reported.

Abedi had denied helping to plan the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017.  He was in Libya when the bomb was detonated but he was “just as guilty” as his brother according to the prosecution.

It took over two years for Britain to secure his extradition. The government paid over £9 million in what the defence called “bribery” aid to get it.

The government certainly was complicit in his torture while Boris Johnson was foreign secretary.

In closed court hearings, which could not be reported until the jury reached its verdict, the British government was accused of bribing Libyan authorities with a multimillion pound aid deal in return for Abedi’s extradition.

Abedi was extradited in July 2019, almost two years after Boris Johnson—the then foreign secretary —visited Tripoli and offered a £9.2 million package to help Libya deal with “terrorism and migration”.


During the visit in 2017, Johnson’s second to the country in less than six months, he met the prime minister, Fayyez Al-Serraj, the foreign minister, Mohamed Siala, and the president of Libya’s high state council, Abdurrahman Swehli.

Abedi’s barrister, Stephen Kamlish, told the court that, “The British were effectively having to bribe the Libyans.”

After their arrest, Abedi and his father were held by the Rada Special Deterrence Force, a militia, at its base at Mitiga airport. The jail was repeatedly attacked by rival militias trying to free their members.

Abedi was held in solitary confinement from the moment he was arrested. Shackled and blindfolded, he was forced to sign a 40-page confession with a fingerprint under “extreme duress”.

Officers from MI5 and MI6 visited him twice at the detention centre where he was being tortured.


“He was held at the airport, which was—and it must have been known to the British government—a notorious torture establishment where people are known to have been tortured and killed,” said Kamlish.

“There was extreme torture on occasion. This was all reported to representatives at the consulate, well before an application for extradition was made.”

Spooks, torture, oil and war—how the British state brought terror to Libya
Spooks, torture, oil and war—how the British state brought terror to Libya
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His allegation of torture were supported by medical evidence, including photographs taken by a British consular official showing marks on his back, arms and ankles.

He was taken from the detention centre to a clinic for treatment to a groin injury.

Kamlish said MI5 and MI6 must have known Abedi was being tortured but they continued to feed questions to his torturers.

He said, “He was arrested the day after the bombing, and until the end of May he was asked questions about people in Manchester and addresses, none of which could have been known to his torturers—it would not have been possible.

“They must have received the questions from either Operation Manteline [the name of the Manchester bombing investigation] or the security services or both. Those questions under torture went on for almost a month.”

Abedi’s older brother, Ismail, who remained in Britain told the British government that his sibling and father were being tortured in Libyan custody—in truth they already knew.

At one point, Kamlish said, British intelligence officers questioned Abedi in the presence of members of the militia that was allegedly torturing him. After Abedi signed the confession on 23 June 2017 the worst of the torture ceased, the court was told.

The prosecution did not deny the allegation of British complicity in Abedi’s torture but went on to successfully argue that his trial should proceed regardless of his treatment in Tripoli.

During the “War on Terror” British spies were repeatedly involved with torture often at a slight distance. They would usually provide the questions for someone else to do the beating. British governments both Labour and Tory have denied involvement in torture. Despite repeated evidence to the contrary and settling compensation cases out of court.

Parliament’s intelligence and security committee confirmed in 2018 that MI5 and MI6 officers had engaged in human rights abuses, but concluded these abuses were a historical issue.

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