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UK pair linked to Brussels, Paris attacks jailed

Court finds Birmingham men who gave ‘man in the hat’ Mohamed Abrini cash last year guilty of knowingly funding terrorism

A British court on December 12, 2016 found Zakaria Boufassil and Mohammed Ali Ahmed guilty of handing over thousands of dollars to the Brussels, Paris attacks suspect Mohammed Abrini last year. (screen capture: YouTube)
A British court on December 12, 2016 found Zakaria Boufassil and Mohammed Ali Ahmed guilty of handing over thousands of dollars to the Brussels, Paris attacks suspect Mohammed Abrini last year. (screen capture: YouTube)

LONDON — A British court on Monday jailed two men for up to eight years for handing money to Brussels and Paris terror attacks suspect Mohamed Abrini when he visited Britain last year.

Mohammed Ali Ahmed and Zakaria Boufassil gave £3,000 ($3,770) in cash to Abrini in the central English city of Birmingham in July 2015, knowing it would be used for terrorism.

Ahmed, a 27-year-old from Birmingham, had pleaded guilty to the offence last month and received an eight-year jail term.

Boufassil, a 26-year-old Belgian citizen also from Birmingham, had admitted meeting Abrini in a Birmingham park and holding the money for Ahmed, but said he had “no idea” of its intended use.

However, a jury dismissed this claim last week and he was sentenced to three years behind bars.

Judge Jeremy Baker said Ahmed was motivated by “extreme Islamist beliefs” but said Boufassil’s role was “more limited.”

The third suspect in the Brussels airport bombings on March 22, 2016 can be seen leaving the scene in a video circulated by Belgian police in effort to track down the man. (Screenshot/YouTube)

It emerged Monday, after the judge lifted reporting restrictions, that Boufassil claimed he was recruited by British intelligence agency MI5 after the meeting with Abrini.

He claimed to have been given up to £3,000 in exchange for information, using it to go to Morocco to see his girlfriend. He was arrested on his return in April 2016.

Boufassil’s lawyer tried to use the MI5 claim to argue that he did not hold any allegiance to a particular terrorist group or cause.

The prosecuting lawyer said she could neither “confirm nor deny” the claims, and the judge ruled they could not be used in evidence.

Abrini was dubbed the “man in the hat” after his image was caught on security cameras before the Brussels attacks in March, which left 32 people dead.

An arrivals and departure board is seen behind blown out windows at Zaventem Airport in Brussels, March 23, 2016. (AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Pool)
An arrivals and departure board is seen behind blown out windows at Zaventem Airport in Brussels, March 23, 2016. (AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Pool)

He is in custody in Belgium, but is also suspected of providing support for the Paris attacks in November 2015, in which 130 people died.

Boufassil’s trial heard that Abrini had told Belgian investigators how he was told by a cell in Syria to visit Britain and collect the money.

The cash was withdrawn from the bank account of an associate of Ahmed, Anwar Haddouchi, who had traveled to Syria to fight for the Islamic State group.

Baker told Ahmed that he had “for some time and continues to hold extreme Islamist beliefs, and that you are committed to the cause of Islamic State.”

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