A childhood friend of the Manchester Arena bomb plotters will be forced to answer questions at the public inquiry into the atrocity next week or face arrest, a judge ruled on Friday.
Ahmed Taghdi, 29, helped buy the brothers a car which was later used to store components of the bomb which Salman Abedi later assembled and detonated on May 22 2017 at the end of an Ariana Grande concert, murdering 22 bystanders and injuring hundreds more.
And Mr Taghdi, along with Salman Abedi, had visited in jail convicted terrorist Abdalraouf Abdallah, who terror experts believe “groomed” Salman into a radicalised Islamist extremist.
Families of victims, along with chairman of the inquiry, Sir John Saunders, want Mr Taghdi to give evidence at the public hearings next week.
Sir John has ordered Mr Taghdi to attend on Thursday but, through his lawyers, he has so far refused, even though he has the legal right to refuse to answer any questions that could incriminate himself.
On Friday the matter went before Mr Justice Jacobs, sitting at the High Court in Manchester, with an application for a court order compelling Mr Taghdi to attend next Thursday and if he does not, to be arrested for breaking the order and brought to the inquiry hearing.
Richard Wright QC, representing Mr Taghdi, opposed the application, telling the hearing his client was a vulnerable witness, suffering a “mild to moderate depressive illness”.
He has evidence of critical importance to give to the inquiry. He was a childhood friend of Salman Abedi and he is therefore singularly well placed to describe Abedi's journey towards radicalisationPaul Greaney QC
And he said Mr Taghdi had fears over his own and his family’s security if he appears as a witness and that having been questioned by police after the bombing and given a witness statement for the trial of Hashem Abedi, Salman’s co-conspirator younger brother, his evidence would have nothing to add.
However, Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, said the criminal case was concerned with prosecuting Hashem Abedi, but the inquiry’s scope was wider and Mr Taghdi would be a key witness for Sir John Saunders.
Mr Greaney said: “He has evidence of critical importance to give to the inquiry. He was a childhood friend of Salman Abedi and he is therefore singularly well placed to describe Abedi’s journey towards radicalisation.”
He told the court the inquiry was also “very interested” in what was discussed when Mr Taghdi and Salman Abedi visited Abdallah in prison.
And he said he was a witness of “considerable significance” adding that Mr Taghdi was seen to visit the area where the Nissan Micra car was kept in the five weeks Salman Abedi was in Libya before returning to collect the bomb components from the car and carry out the attack.
Mr Greaney said Mr Taghdi had been given “every chance” to co-operate with the inquiry but failed to do so.
Mr Taghdi, from Manchester, was arrested and questioned after the bombing but never charged with any offence and denies involvement or knowledge of the bomb plot by Salman and his brother Hashem Abedi.
Mr Justice Jacobs granted the application for the order, backed by an arrest warrant should he not attend.
He added: “It is beyond sensible argument that the respondent (Mr Taghdi) has relevant evidence he can give to the inquiry.
“It is justified in the circumstances of the present case so we will make the order which has been requested.”
Abdalraouf Abdallah is due to give evidence next week, having initially declined to do so. Lawyers for Abdallah told the inquiry on Thursday he will not answer any questions if he is forced to attend.
It is not yet known if any of them will attend the inquiry, which reconvenes on Monday.