(Bloomberg) -- The father of Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi said he spoke to his son last week to discuss meeting in Tripoli during Ramadan, and expressed disbelief that the 22-year-old had carried out the U.K.’s deadliest act of terrorism in more than a decade.
When asked if he had been contacted by British authorities about his son, who was reportedly known to the security services before Monday’s bombing of a pop concert in Manchester, northwest England, Ramadan Abedi answered ‘No.’
The holy month of Ramadan starts this weekend. “I was really shocked when I saw the news, I still don’t believe it,” he said in Tripoli.
"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. “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.”
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. Prime Minister Theresa May announced late on Tuesday that intelligence analysts had raised the U.K. terrorism threat 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. Authorities fear Abedi wasn’t working alone.
Police appeared to be widening their security operation, with the arrest of a 23-year-old from south Manchester. They also carried out searches at two addresses. Ramadan Abedi said one of his other sons -- he has four and two daughters, according to his official identification documents -- had been arrested and is being questioned by police.
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.
“Until now my son is a suspect, and the authorities haven’t come up with a final conclusion,” Ramadan Abedi said in an interview at his home in Tripoli, 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.
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.
“The last time we spoke, I told him he should come to fast during Ramadan with us in Libya, and he showed no objection,” the father said, “If he had anything in his mind by that time he would’ve disagreed.”