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A man has been convicted of funding terrorism after handing over cash to a Brussels bomb suspect.
Zakaria Boufassil was convicted following a trial at Kingston Crown Court where the jury heard details of how Boufassil, together with Mohammed Ali Ahmed, arranged and carried out a meeting with Brussels bomb suspect Mohammed Abrini in a Small Heath park. Between 9 and 16 July 2015, £3,000 cash was handed over by the pair who knew the money could or would be used to fund terrorism.
Mohammed Ali Ahmed pleaded guilty to the charge against him - engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism, contrary to Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006 - at an earlier hearing and is currently awaiting sentence.
L-R: Boufassil and Ahmed
Abrini − who is in custody having been charged with murder following the Brussels airport attack in March 2016 - had travelled to London on 9 July 2015 where he then journeyed to Birmingham.
The £3,000 cash was withdrawn from a bank account belonging to 32-year-old Belgian national Anwar Haddouchi who is believed to be fighting in Syria for Daesh. Haddouchi previously lived in Small Heath and was known to Zakaria’s sister and her husband, who had been looking after Haddouchi’s affairs in the UK.
Ahmed, aged 27 from Coventry Road, Small Heath, and Boufassil, aged 26 from Coventry Road, Small Heath, were arrested on 14 and 15 April this year by officers from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit.
Before Abrini travelled to the UK, he flew to Istanbul and was then smuggled into Syria where he met Abdelhamid Abaaoud - Abaaoud is believed to have been the mastermind of the Paris attacks and was killed days later by armed officers in France.
During the meeting with Abaaoud, they talked about battles Abaaoud had taken part in and how Abrini’s brother had died whilst fighting. Abaaoud instructed Abrini to travel to Birmingham to collect some money.
Following the cash handover, 31-year-old Abrini then exchanged the money for another currency and returned with it to Belgium on 16 July. When the Belgian Police seized Abrini’s phone in July 2015, an image of Small Heath park was found.
ACC Marcus Beale, Counter Terrorism Lead for West Midlands Police, said: "The conviction of these two men is significant for the UK as it identified a dangerous link to Abrini and Abaaoud. Their conviction sends a clear message to those who fund terrorism that they will be prosecuted and potentially face lengthy prison sentences.
“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 reminder of why our work to prepare for and prevent such incidents in the UK is important.
“We will continue to work with our partners in MI5 and the wider counter terrorism network to prioritise our resources against the cases that pose the most risk to the public − this includes funding and facilitating terrorism which is a significant element of the counter terrorism effort.
“The threat to the UK from international terrorism remains at severe, meaning an attack is considered to be highly likely. Plots aimed at the UK continue to be foiled, with offenders being prosecuted; our communities, businesses, policing and MI5 work relentlessly to make the UK very hard to attack but we cannot be complacent and will always strive to improve.
“We will continue to work with our partners in MI5 and the wider counter terrorism network to prioritise our resources against the cases that pose the most risk to the public."
ACC Beale continued: “Last week saw forces across the country join together to promote counter terrorism awareness week; people need to remain vigilant and be alert not alarmed.
“We remain concerned about the radicalisation of individuals and we would always urge anyone who has concerns to contact their local police or their local council.
“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."
Mohammed Ali Ahmed and Zakaria Boufassil will be sentenced at Kingston Crown Court on Monday (12 December).
Anyone concerned about someone travelling to, or returning from, Syria or another conflict zone or is worried about someone showing signs of being radicalised should contact their local police on 101 or visit www.preventtragedies.co.uk to access relevant support and advice.
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