(AFP) – A British court on Tuesday convicted a Belgian man living in Birmingham of giving money to Brussels and Paris terror attacks suspect Mohamed Abrini.
Zakaria Boufassil handed £3,000 ($3,770, 3,550 euros) in cash to Abrini when the latter visited the city in central England in July 2015, with the knowledge that it would be used for terrorism, the court found.
Testifying at Kingston Crown Court in London last week, the 26-year-old admitted to meeting Abrini and to holding the money for his conspirator, Mohamed Ali Ahmed, but said he had “no idea” of its intended use.
Abrini, dubbed the “man in the hat” for his image caught on security cameras before the Brussels airport bombing, was questioned by Belgian investigators in April over his suspected involvement in the Brussels attacks in March and the Paris attacks in November 2015.
During his visit to Britain, travelling from Syria via Turkey, Abrini said he collected the money and visited casinos in Birmingham and in Manchester, northwest England.
“I am a player, a fan of casinos… It’s my addiction, I play roulette, poker and the slot machines,” he said, according to transcripts of his interrogation that were read out in the British court.
But he denied the money was used for terrorism, saying it was “too small a sum”, adding: “To carry out attacks you need lots of money.”
Ahmed, also from Birmingham, had pleaded guilty to handing over the money last month and Boufassil said Ahmed had taken “advantage of my naivety”.
Speaking in French through a translator, Boufassil said last week he gave the money to Ahmed in a park in Birmingham, and stayed there smoking while he and Abrini went elsewhere.
“He never told me that the person who was coming to get the money was a bad person. Had I known it I would never have kept the money,” Boufassil said.
As a follower of Sufism, a mystic Islamic order that is viewed as heretical by hardline militant groups, Boufassil condemned the Islamic State group.
“For me, those people are worse than animals,” he said.
Boufassil, who also admitted to being a regular cannabis user, struggled to remember dates and times in cross-examination.