An Imam at a Manchester mosque where terrorist Salman Abedi worshipped has been caught on tape appearing to call for military or armed jihad, BBC News claims.
The corporation has obtained a recording of a sermon delivered by Mustafa Graf at Didsbury Mosque on 16 December 2016, six months before Abedi killed 22 people by detonating a suicide bomb during an Ariana Grande concert in the city on 22 May.
Two Muslim scholars who listened to the recording told the BBC that they believed the language used in the sermon represents a call for armed jihad.
But Graf denied the claim and said he has never preached Islamic extremism.
Before his death, Abedi and his family regularly attended Disbury Mosque, where his father sometimes led the call to prayer.
The BBC said it was unclear whether the bomber or any of his relatives were present during the sermon in question, but claimed the 22-year-old bought a ticket for the Ariana Grande concert 10 days later.
The sermon by Graf, delivered at the time of the bombing of Aleppo, Syria, includes prayers for “Mujahideen” – a term used for a group fighting armed jihad abroad, the BBC said,.
“We ask Allah to grant them Mujahideen – our brothers and sisters right now in Aleppo and Syria and Iraq – to grant them victory”, Graf is reported as saying.
Elsewhere the Imam is said to have told worshippers “jihad for the sake of Allah is the source of pride and dignity for this nation”, and “now it is time to act and do something”.
The sermon centres on the suffering in Syria and includes an appeal for donations, with Graf at one point saying “the whole world, including Europe, America, what is the so-called civilised world” was watching what was happening in Aleppo and Syria.
“They know that Iran, Russia and the militias are killing humans in Syria and they do nothing. Well in fact they helped Iranian, Russian and others to kill Muslims over there,” he added.
“He’s giving them the narrative of them against us”, said Islamic scholar Shaykh Rehan, after listening to the audio.
“He is psychologically and practically brainwashing young people into either travelling or to do something to take action.
“The jihad he’s referring to here is actually being on the battlefield, there’s no ifs and no buts in this.”
“He’s giving them the narrative of them against us”, he added. “He is psychologically and practically brainwashing young people into either travelling or to do something to take action.”
Usama Hasan, head of Islamic Studies at Quilliam, agreed, telling BBC News: “From the context and the way these texts [the religious passages quoted within the sermon] are used they are clearly referring to military jihad, to armed jihad”.
Hasan added: “I have known the Islamic discourse for pretty much 40 years, from being a child in this country and worldwide, and the Mujahideen are the group fighting armed jihad”.
The trustees of Didsbury Mosque said Graf’s sermon was highlighting the plight of Syrians and his use of the words “jihad” and “mujahideen” had been misinterpreted.
“We do not tolerate or instigate any form of preaching that breaches both Islamic principles and the laws of England and Wales”, it said.
BBC News’ investigation also claimed to have uncovered connections between Graf and Abedi. It obtained footage of Abedi attending a demonstration in London against a secular Libyan General who was fighting against Islamist militia in 2015.
The event was organised by the so-called 17th of February Forum. Graf is a leader of the group, although he was not present at the London demonstration, the corporation said.
BBC News also understands that at least five men who have attended Didsbury Mosque have either travelled to Syria or have been jailed for terrorism offences.
The trustees of Didsbury Mosque say none of these men – which the broadcaster did not name – visited the mosque.