UK

Man found guilty over Belgium attacks terror suspect cash

Zakaria Boufassil (left) and Mohammed Ali Ahmed Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Zakaria Boufassil (left) and Mohammed Ali Ahmed will be sentenced next Monday

A 26-year-old man has been found guilty of giving £3,000 to a suspect in the Paris and Brussels terror attacks, during a meeting in a Birmingham park months earlier.

A jury convicted Zakaria Boufassil, from Birmingham, of engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism.

A second man, Mohammed Ali Ahmed, 27, has pleaded guilty to the same offence.

Mohamed Abrini, the suspect dubbed the "man in the hat", received the money in July 2015, Kingston Crown Court heard.

The defendants will be sentenced on 12 December.

Prosecutors said the money came from a bank account set up by another man who had previously left the UK to fight with the so-called Islamic State group in Syria.

Most of it was from housing benefits payments, they said.

The court heard Ahmed used a replacement debit card for the account to make 17 withdrawals between May and June 2015, before handing the £3,000 to Abrini in Small Heath Park, near the home of both defendants.

There was said to have been telephone contact between all three men and technical evidence showing their phones had been in close proximity, including in the park.

Background: Was cash handed over in UK used to fund terror attacks?

Abrini, 31 has been linked to the Brussels terror attack in March this year, which killed 32 people at an airport and metro station, the jury heard. He became known as the "man in the hat" after CCTV footage was released of him after the attack.

Prosecuting, Max Hill QC told the court Abrini is also suspected of being connected to attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, which killed 130 people.

He said of the July 2015 meeting: "You can be sure that Ahmed, Abrini and Mr Boufassil met that day - that was the handover of the money to Abrini."

The court heard that Abrini, who was arrested by police in Belgium in April, travelled to the UK from Syria via Turkey.

During his week-long visit he was also said to have visited casinos and shopping centres in Birmingham and Manchester, as well as Manchester United's Old Trafford football stadium.

Image copyright Police Federale
Image caption Mohamed Abrini became known as the "man in the hat" after the Brussels bombings

But the court heard that, in an interview with Belgian police, Abrini had said he had not been on any "reconnaissance trips in relation to preparatory terrorist attacks" when he visited Britain.

Abrini also said there was "no plan to target England" because the country has a "more developed secret service" and "better observation techniques".

In his evidence, Boufassil admitted the meeting with Abrini in the park had taken place, but denied it was connected to terrorism and its funding.

Speaking after the verdict, Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale, Counter Terrorism Lead for West Midlands Police, said: "We know that Abrini visited several locations during his visit to the UK, but that his sole purpose of being here was to collect the money and our case - whilst not focused on attack planning - acts as a reminder of why our work to prepare for and prevent such incidents in the UK is important."

He added: "We are working hard with partner agencies and community groups around the West Midlands to alert the public to the dangers of radicalisation and explain what help is available to those vulnerable to negative influences."

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