A judge has issued an arrest warrant for the older brother of the Manchester Arena bomber after he refused to testify to the investigation into the bombing and fled the country.
The district judge said he was satisfied that Ismail Abedi (28) – who now calls himself Ishmale ben Romdhan – was aware of the hearing and had been given the opportunity to attend.
Abedi, an IT worker, left his flat in Manchester last August and is now believed to be with his parents and three youngest siblings in Libya.
A final tannoy was made at Manchester Magistrates Court on Tuesday to check he was not in the building.
Salman Abedi blew himself up at the Arena in May 2017, killing 22 men, women and children. His younger brother Hashem (24), who was extradited from Libya, is serving a life sentence for helping him make the bomb.
The inquiry wanted to question Ismail because his DNA was found on a hammer in a Nissan Micra car used by his two younger brothers to transport and store the explosive they had produced.
The victims’ families also wanted to question him about the brothers’ radicalisation, particularly because Islamic State propaganda was found on Ismail’s phone when he returned from his honeymoon, 20 months before the bombing.
Abedi was arrested by police the day after the attack and questioned for 14 days before being released without charge.
At the time of the attack, he had moved out of the family home, and he told police he had called his parents and asked them to take the brothers back to Libya because he was concerned they had dropped out of education.
On August 28 last year, he was the subject of a planned seven-stop under the Terrorism Act 2000 at Manchester Airport, but told police he would return to the country in mid-September.
He missed the flight but returned to Manchester Airport the next day and left the country.
At a hearing last month, Ismail was found guilty, in his absence, of refusing to comply with a section 21 notice under the Inquiries Act 2005.
Sophie Cartwright QC, prosecuting, said a notice of the hearing on Tuesday had been sent to him at his last known address, telling him he had been found guilty, in his absence, of an offense under section 35 of the Inquiries Act.
“He was sent separate notice of today’s hearing. We will submit that there is sufficient notice of this hearing, and we will submit that he has not attended today.
“As a result, we would allege that this is an offense that carries a term of imprisonment and you have the power to issue a warrant.”
District Judge Jack McGarva told the hearing: “Not only has he had emails but there has been a lot of publicity. I’m sure he will have been following what has happened in this court.
“I would have issued the warrant at the last hearing but the Magistrates Court Act did not allow me to do this. I am now allowed to issue a warrant and do so under section 13 of the Act.”
The judge told the hearing last month that he was prevented from imposing a prison sentence, in the defendant’s absence, where the case had been started by summons.
But he said there was an interest in making sure others in similar situations take part and meet their obligations, and that an arrest warrant would allow Interpol to put out a “desired” notice.
“If he crosses any of the countries we work with, he will make his way [here]”, the judge added.
Nick de la Poer QC told the hearing that Abedi had “confused and obfuscated”, adding: “He has thrown up every obstacle he could think of and when they failed he fled the jurisdiction.”
The families of the victims questioned whether Ismail will ever be caught, accusing him of “truly despicable contempt”.
Kim Harrison, a lawyer at Slater and Gordon, who is representing 11 of the victims’ families, said: “While we welcome the conviction of Ismail Abedi today, we remain deeply disappointed that the conviction had to take place in his absence.
“We remain seriously concerned about how Abedi was able to leave the country before giving evidence to the investigation in the first place.
“His leaving the country should never have happened and despite the conviction he is unlikely to face any real justice until he is apprehended, if at all.
“The families deserve to know the truth about what happened that night and the contempt Ismail Abedi has shown them is truly despicable.”