A Belgian national has been found guilty of helping to fund terrorism by giving cash from overpaid benefits to Brussels bombing suspect Mohamed Abrini during a secret rendezvous in a Birmingham park.
Zakaria Boufassil, together with Mohammed Ali Ahmed, supplied £3,000 to Abrini, dubbed “the man in the hat” after he was caught on CCTV at Brussels airport just before the bombing in March this year. A jury of six men and six women at south-west London’s Kingston Crown Court found Boufassil, 26, from Birmingham, guilty of engaging in conduct in preparation of acts of terrorism.
Boufassil, who looked stunned as the verdict was delivered, told the court he was a cannabis user and a “moderate and tolerant” Sufi Muslim and described members of the so-called Islamic State as “worse than animals”.
On 8 April this year, Abrini, 31, was arrested in Belgium and accused of “participating in terrorist acts” linked to the Brussels Zaventem Airport suicide bombing on 22 March.
The Belgian Moroccan is also wanted by French authorities for the 13 November, 2015 attacks in Paris in which 130 people died.
In a transcript of an interview with Abrini by Belgian investigators, which was read to the court during the trial, he said that while visiting the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, a man called Abdelhamid Abaaoud had asked him to collect the cash in the UK as a “favour”.
He also revealed it had been “Zakaria” who had handed him the bag of money in the “forest”, but that he had not been told by Abaaoud who it was from or how much he was to collect.
During his UK visit, in July 2015, Abrini also visited casinos in Birmingham and Manchester, Old Trafford football stadium, the Arndale Shopping Centre in Manchester and the Bullring in Birmingham, after travelling to Britain from Syria via Turkey.
Despite this, Abrini claimed that “neither in London, nor in Birmingham, nor in Manchester” had he been on any “reconnaissance trips in relation to preparatory terrorist attacks”.
Abrini said there was no plan to attack England because the country has a “more developed secret service”.
The pair will be sentenced on 12 December.