Hundreds of thousands of pounds of wrongly paid British benefits have been used to fund Islamic terror, it has emerged.
The issue was brought to light by the case of a Belgian resident living in Birmingham who handed thousands in wrongly claimed benefits to a terrorist linked to the Paris and Brussels attacks – even as they were being watched by security forces.
The former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile of Berriew, has the told The Times that “several hundred thousand pounds in small remittances have been used to fund terrorism in one way or another” over the last few years.
He said: “[Such activity] has increased during the rise of Isis. Certainly, the government should ensure that there is more triage available when housing benefits recipients are known to have gone to another country.”
The government is now facing calls to hold an inquiry into the volume of fraudulently claimed benefits being used to fund jihadist activity, such is the estimated scale of the matter.
Yesterday Zakaria Boufassil, 26, was convicted of passing £3,000 in cash to Mohamed Abrini, the man alleged to be the terrorist known as the “Man in the Hat”, who was caught on CCTV before the bombing of Brussels airport last March.
Abrini was sent from Syria to the UK by his terror cell to collect the money from Boufassil, a Belgian citizen residing in Birmingham.
However, the money came from housing and child support payments paid out to Anouar Haddouchi, another Belgian resident who was fighting in Syria for Islamic State at the time, and who had been claiming benefits since 2009 despite mostly living in Saudi Arabia.
In total, nearly £11,000 was paid into Haddouchi’s account after he and his wife had left for the war zone, including nearly £6,000 which was paid even after Birmingham council had been alerted to the fact that the husband and wife had vacated their home. Birmingham city council yesterday apologised for the error.
A third man, Mohammed Ali Ahmed, impersonated Haddouchi to gain access to the money in his bank account. He was on police bail and was being tagged by MI5 when he assisted Boufassil in handing over the cash.
Boufassil was found guilty at Kingston crown court of engaging in conduct in preparation of acts of terrorism, while last month Ahmed pleaded guilty to the same offence. They will be sentenced next week.
They join a long list of Islamic extremists who have taken advantage of Britain’s benefit system to fund their activities. Hate preacher Anjem Choudary is believed to have received hundreds of thousands of pounds in benefits for his family over the years, ended only by his being jailed earlier this year.
Last year three sisters from Bradford travelled to Syria with their children and are believed to have used income support and child tax credits to fund the journey.
Yvette Cooper, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, has called for an audit of Britons fighting for Islamic State to ensure that they are not collecting benefits, and has called for an inquiry into the use of benefits by terror organisations.
She said: “There should be clear checks to stop people claiming benefits if they have left the country. An immediate and urgent investigation is needed into how government checks on benefit fraud and border controls completely failed to stop this case.”
However, Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale, head of counterterrorism for West Midlands police, emphasised that the benefits system was not “completely broken”, and that the authorities were aware of the potential for the benefits system to be exploited in this way.
“All terrorist groups need money and when you look around the world, in the main they use organised crime as that means. That’s not what we tend to see — we see a bit of exploitation of benefits, sometimes around charity exploitation,” he said.