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Inside the deadly terror cell linked to Manchester bomber Salman Abedi

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BRITISH spies are still pursuing members of the UK's largest jihadist terror network which spawned Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi.

A Sun investigation has for the first time publicly identified the connections between all 18 members of the Islamist group who have brought death and destruction to the globe.

They include Abedi and a second suicide bomber, a leading Islamic State recruiter, twin IS poster girls, several fighters killed in battle and an Islamist RAF veteran.

The fate of several others remains unknown with security experts warning many jihadists have survived the battlegrounds of the Middle East and could be poised to return and carry out more attacks.

Chris Phillips, former head of the UK's Counter Terrorism Security Office, warned: "The security services will be very concerned about these guys linked to Abedi coming back but it can be quite difficult to stop them.

"They're battle-hardened and picking up new techniques. If they've survived they can come back under the radar - like many already have.

"Sooner or later it's likely one of these guys who have been fighting in Syria or Iraq returns to commit mass murder - they can't be under surveillance the whole time."

The Sun can also reveal one member of the network has recently been jailed in Denmark with the help of British security services while another is awaiting trial.

All 18 of the group from south Manchester are linked to each other through friendships and community connections.

Abedi, radicalised by this group and connections to Libya, resolved to target his home town as a strike against those who he believed were the enemies of Islam.

He targeted innocent men, women and children attending an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester on this day last year.

The 22-year-old detonated the home-made rucksack bomb packed with nuts and bolts to act as shrapnel after entering the Manchester Arena.

He killed 22 people including eight-year-old Saffie Roussos, Georgina Callander, 18, and eight more teens with another 220 people receiving medical care.

The carnage was the first suicide bomb attack on UK soil since the 2005 London bombings - leaving Brits asking how a young man who grew up in Manchester could cause such devastation.

But Abedi's path to carrying out the suicide attack began many years earlier with family connections to Libyan militants and a network of jihadists which formed in south Manchester.

It is believed the fate of two members of the group - IS recruiter Raphel Hostey and Abdalraouf Abdallah - partly drove Abedi to carry out his suicide attack in Manchester last year.

Abdallah was jailed in 2016 for his role in helping RAF veteran Stephen Gray, another top IS fighter Raymond Matimba, and a third man of Libyan heritage, Nezar Khalifa, 27, travelling to Syria.

Former university graphic design student Hostey - who took the nom de guerre Abu Qaqa al-Britani - was killed in a drone strike in 2016 after it is believed he recruited hundreds to IS.

Abedi was said to have resented the demise of his friends, including another stabbed to death in a gang fight, and vowed to take revenge.

Abedi was close friends with both Abdallah, a 24-year-old Libyan-British dual national, and Hostey, 24 when killed, who regularly visited the Jame’ah Masjid E Noor mosque on Stamford Street, Old Trafford.

One source close to Hostey has told The Sun how he and Matimba, a senior IS figure filmed in Raqqa, Syria, alongside Mohammed Emwazi - aka "Jihadi John" - took friends to the mosque to learn about Islam.

They are understood to have been introducing would-be recruits to the older Islamist Gray, who was 34 when jailed last year for terrorism offences, to learn about converting to Islam in 2012 and 2013.

It is believed Gray was a figurehead for teens in the area and helped convert youngsters to Islam.

One source added: "Ray and Raphel were close and changed over time, Ray more gradually. They began wearing robes and talking more about Islam.

"They would take friends along to the mosque in Trafford to speak to Gray about converting - he was kind of a figurehead for them because he was older.

It is also understood two brothers Khalif and Abdulrahman Shariff, 20 and 18 when they fled to join IS in 2014, were connected to Abdallah and Gray through playing football and attending the Jame’ah Masjid E Noor mosque on Stamford Street where they also lived.

Abdallah, left in a wheelchair after being shot during the Libyan uprising in 2011, also assisted his brother Mohammed, 26, in travelling to Syria after setting up a "communications hub".

The fate of both Matimba and Khalifa remains unknown.

IS recruiter Hostey, as well as attending the mosque in Trafford, also attended the ultra-conservative Salafi Didsbury mosque with college friends Mohammad Javeed and Anil Raoufi, two other IS fighters thought to have been killed in 2014 aged 19 and 20.

Mohammed's 31-year-old brother Jamshed, a chemistry teacher, was jailed for six years in 2016 for trying to join IS and helping Mohammed, Hostey and Raoufi to join the terrorist army in 2013.

Members of the group including Hostey's friend Ahmed Halane, set for trial in Denmark over he allegations he joined Al-Shabaab in Somalia, and Nur Hassan, 25, also attended the Al Furqan mosque in Moss Side.

Hassan, a Finnish national who lived in Manchester, was convicted in Denmark this year for joining IS in Syria after British security services' assistance.

Halane, 24, whose twin sisters Zahra and Salma fled to Syria aged 16 in 2013, is set to face trial in Denmark over allegations he joined terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab for two years until 2015.

MI5 head Andrew Parker last year revealed international co-operation had led to 12 arrests of suspected terrorists in Europe - including Hassan and Halane.

Halane's cousin Abdullahi Farah Jama, 21, from Manchester, was also jailed for seven years in 2016 after creating an IS communications hub and helping Hassan travel to Syria.

Halane's sisters Zahra and Salma, who are now missing, became poster girls for the terror group and were vocal on social media in promoting IS.

They were also involved in recruiting other young girls to become jihadi brides in the terror group and were exposed in a Sun investigation trying to arrange marriages to fighters.

Hostey also had connections to another IS suicide bomber Ronald Fiddler, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner who was imprisoned by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and eventually handed over to the US.

Jamaican-born Fiddler, who used the Islamic name Jamal al-Harith, was released in 2004 and returned to Manchester where he befriended Hostey's father Ibraheem, 42, and travelled on an aid convoy with him to Gaza in 2009.

Dad-of-five Fiddler, 50, went on to carry out a vehicle bomb suicide attack against Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul last year.

Shiraz Maher, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, said: "With the Manchester guys they combined with the Portsmouth guys and became the most potent grouping out there with Islamic State.

"They were basically going from where they knew each other and that's how recruitment was happening - it pushes back a little on the idea it was the internet.

"We understand Abedi seemed to really admire Hostey but we don't know much more. Quite a number of those who travelled to Syria and Iraq are believed to have survived as well."

Haras Rafiq, chief executive of the Quilliam Foundation, said: "Abedi got involved in some of these gangs as well and a lot of these gangs were certainly politically radicalising if not theologically, Manchester has got a big problem.

"The politicians are not focusing on the other stages of radicalisation and the organisation in the pre-crime space - they're not being challenged."

Police are currently awaiting a response from Libyan authorities on an extradition request for Abedi's 20-year-old brother Hashem who could face trial over the Manchester attack.

Greater Manchester Police chief constable Ian Hopkins, when asked by The Sun about why they were not able to break up the Manchester network earlier, said: "The big focus is on getting communities to take responsibility, to come forward and give us information.

"And the positive thing post all the terrorist attacks last year is the volume of information that is coming forward to the counter-terrorism network."

The UK is thought to be home to between 20,000 and 25,000 Islamist radicals with 3,000 considered a direct threat by MI5 and 500 under constant surveillance.

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