(Bloomberg) -- The father and a brother of suspected Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi have been detained by security personnel in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, according to witnesses and officials.
Three vehicles drove up to the Abedi home Wednesday evening and several men wearing uniform, some of them masked, detained Ramadan Abedi, the alleged attacker’s father, and two other unidentified men in the street. It wasn’t immediately possible to reach a spokesman for the United-Nations backed government in Tripoli for comment.
Separately, security forces announced they had Salman Abedi’s younger brother, Hesham, in custody. In a statement, the Special Deterrence Force said he had admitted to having links with Islamic State and being in the U.K. at the time the Manchester attack was being planned. The statement said Hesham had received money from his elder sibling. The force couldn’t immediately be contacted.
The 22 people killed in the Manchester bombing included elementary school students, with the youngest just eight years old. Of the 59 wounded, many were children under 16. The U.K.’s terrorism threat has been raised from “severe” to “critical” -- the highest level -- for the first time since 2007, meaning another attack may be imminent. The army will be deployed to guard national sites under police review as campaigning for the June 8 general election resumes on Thursday. Authorities fear Abedi wasn’t working alone.
Ramadan Abedi was detained hours after he described in an interview with Bloomberg his disbelief over news his 22-year-old son had carried out the U.K.’s deadliest act of terrorism in more than a decade. He said the two had last week spoke about meeting in Tripoli during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
When asked if he had been contacted by British authorities about his son, who was reportedly known to the U.K. security services before Monday’s bombing of a pop concert in Manchester, northwest England, Ramadan Abedi answered “No.”
The fasting month starts this weekend. “I was really shocked when I saw the news, I still don’t believe it,” he said in Libya’s capital.
“My son was as religious as any child who opens his eyes in a religious family,” said Ramadan Abedi, who arrived in the U.K. from his native Libya in the 1990s and stayed until 2008. “As we were discussing news of similar attacks earlier, he was always against those attacks, saying there’s no religious justification for them. I don’t understand how he’d have become involved in an attack that led to the killing of children.”
Salman Abedi made frequent trips to visit his family in Libya, his father said, and was in the country last week, where he had told his mother he intended to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
“My son was supposed to be with us for Ramadan, but he told us he was going to do Umrah, via the U.K., and that’s why he left,” he said, using the term for a lesser pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of the year.
“Until now my son is a suspect, and the authorities haven’t come up with a final conclusion,” Ramadan Abedi, who was born in 1965, said in the interview, insisting on his son’s innocence. “Every father knows his son and his thoughts, my son does not have extremist thoughts.”
Abedi was first revealed as the attacker on Tuesday by CBS in the U.S., prompting U.K. police to put out a statement saying speculation was “unhelpful and potentially damaging” to the investigation. The U.K. later confirmed his identity. British Home Secretary Amber Rudd later criticized U.S. officials for the initial leaks in an usually blunt rebuke.
On Wednesday, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told a television interviewer that Abedi had traveled to Syria and had Islamic State links.
Islamic State claimed the Manchester attack in a short message in Arabic and English posted on the online messaging service Telegram and picked up by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant websites. It did not give any details about the attacker, or how the blast was carried out, leading some analysts to question the extent of the militant group’s involvement.
Ramadan Abedi said he served as a security officer during Muammar Qaddafi’s rule before being accused by the regime of links to extremist groups, accusations he strongly denies. He left for the U.K. in 1993, returning to Libya in 2008, where he was joined by most of his family after the ouster of Qaddafi in the 2011 revolution. Salman and one brother stayed in the U.K. to finish their studies.
Libya descended into turmoil after the NATO-backed uprising that ousted Qaddafi in 2011, with myriad armed groups -- some of them Islamist -- and two administrations vying for influence.
“I was working with homeland security,” under Qaddafi, the father said. “I know the dangers of those extremist groups, and I was raising my children to make them aware of those groups.”