- Mohammed Abrini visited Britain in July last year to collect terror funds
- He met two men in a Birmingham park who handed over £3,000
- Abrini was later caught on CCTV during the Brussels terror attack in March
- He is also wanted by French authorities over the Paris attack which killed 130
Duncan Gardham For Mailonline
Zakaria Boufassil has been found guilty of funding terrorism after handing £3,000 to the terror suspect known as ‘The Man in the Hat’
A Belgian living in Birmingham faces jail after he was found guilty of supplying £3,000 in overpaid housing benefit to the so-called ‘Man in the Hat’ terror suspect in the Brussels Airport bombing.
Mohammed Abrini, a courier for the Paris and Brussels terrorist cell, visited Britain in July last year to collect the cash.
Zakaria Boufassil, 26, handed over the money in Small Heath Park in Birmingham after taking elaborate measures to evade detection.
A second man, Mohammed Ali Ahmed, 27, also took part in the hand-over and pleaded guilty four weeks ago.
Boufassil was today found guilty of preparing acts of terrorism by supplying the money to Abrini between July 9 and July 16 last year.
On April 8 this year, Abrini, 31, was arrested in Belgium and accused of ‘participating in terrorist acts’ linked to the Brussels Zaventem Airport suicide bombing on March 22.
The Belgian Moroccan is also wanted by French authorities for the November 13, 2015, attacks in Paris in which 130 people died.
Ahmed and Boufassil handed over the money near Small Heath Park in Birmingham after taking elaborate measures to evade detection.
Mohammed Abrini was caught on camera fleeing Brussels airport after the bombing in March and he is accused of playing a role in the Paris and Brussels attacks
The money had been withdrawn from a British bank account in the name Anouar Haddouchi, another Belgian who had been living in Birmingham but had already joined ISIS.
The account contained overpaid housing benefits totalling £5,413 which had been paid between December 21, 2014, and November 1, 2015.
Haddouchi and his wife, Julie Maes, a convert also from Belgium, along with another Belgian called Abelatif Gaini, had all departed from Britain to join ISIS.
Abrini has told Belgian police that the money was given to the brother of Abelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind behind the Paris attacks, who spent it all on ‘going out, cars and clothes.’
Abrini became known as the ‘Man In The Hat’ after his suspected involvement in March’s Brussels terror attack
In fact, detectives believe that it went towards funding the cell that launched the attacks that killed 162 people.
Investigators believe Abrini’s trip to Manchester United stadium, the Bull Ring Shopping Centre in Birmingham and a number of casinos during the trip to Britain was most likely to be part of his cover as a tourist, rather than a scouting mission.
In court, Boufassil claimed that he was a cannabis-smoking dupe, who had been used by Ahmed to deliver the money.
But call data revealed he had been in constant touch with Ahmed around the time of the exchange and had spoken to Abrini by phone afterwards.
Max Hill QC, prosecuting, said ‘there can be no doubt that the money was handed over with the intention of assisting acts of terrorism.
‘The destination of the money would include Syria, and specifically Daesh, either to Haddouchi himself or to other fighters.’
He told the jury: ‘This case, you may think, gives you a glimpse of how terrorists work, how they prepare.
‘They need money. No doubt it comes in all amounts and from many sources. This case just shows one occasion, one source, one piece of the jigsaw of so-called Islamic State.’
The handover of the money took place in Small Heath Park in Birmingham in July last year
The trial heard that Abrini denied any plan to attack Britain, saying: ‘Neither in London, nor in Birmingham, nor in Manchester, have I been on any reconnaissance trips in relation to preparatory terrorist attacks.’
He added: ‘There’s no plan to target England as a potential site for a terrorist act. From what I know, it’s France who is the declared enemy of Islamic State.
‘I think England has a more developed secret service, better observation techniques etc… and it’s therefore more difficult to attack. I’ve not heard either of contacts with any English nationals in Syria.’
Mohammed Ali Ahmed admitted handing over the money. Both he and Boufassil now face jail sentences
Speaking after today’s verdicts, Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale of West Midlands Counter-Terrorism Unit, said police believe there was ‘nothing sinister’ in the rest of Abrini’s visit to Britain after the meeting at Small Heath.
But he warned that the threat had ‘never been broader or deeper,’ despite Abrini’s denial that ISIS would target Britain.
‘All of this illustrates the threat we face from Daesh and it will only get more difficult as the military squeeze increases and fighters are pushed back to Europe, but we have never been better prepared.
‘We are grateful that this group looked in the other direction but others don’t hold that respect and there is still a genuine and real threat to the UK.’
During the trial Boufassil admitted meeting Abrini in the park, but denied it had anything to do terrorism and its funding.
He insisted that Ahmed had ‘never communicated’ his plans, ‘took advantage of his naivety’ and had not told him that Abrini, who he claimed to never have met, was a ‘bad person’.
Boufassil and Ahmed will be sentenced on December 12 at London’s Kingston Crown Court.
Investigators uncovered this hotel receipt which showed Abrini stayed in Birmingham
Published at Tue, 06 Dec 2016 14:40:37 +0000