Brussels bombing suspect 'handed cash in forest to fund terrorism'
The Brussels bombing suspect dubbed "the man in the hat" was led to a secret meeting in a Birmingham forest and handed £3,000 by two men to fund terrorism, a court has heard.
Mohamed Abrini, who is also wanted by French authorities in connection with the Paris attacks last November, made visits to a casino during his trip to the UK between July 9 and 16 2015, Kingston Crown Court in south-west London heard on Thursday.
Prosecutors allege the 31-year-old Belgian citizen received the payment from defendant Zakaria Boufassil, 26, together with Mohammed Ali Ahmed, between July 9 and July 16 2015, when Abrini travelled to the Midlands from abroad.
The Birmingham pair are charged with supplying "a quantity of sterling currency" to Abrini between June 1 2014, and April 16 2016 with the intention of committing or assisting another to commit acts of terrorism.
Boufassil has pleaded not guilty to the charge but prosecutor Max Hill QC told the jury Ahmed had admitted the same offence on November 8.
He said this would become relevant to jurors when determining if the case against Boufassil had been established, adding the accused denied sharing Ahmed's intention.
Mr Hill said there was "no doubt" the money was handed over with the intention of assisting acts of terrorism, adding: "We suggest that Mr Boufassil committed this offence together with Ahmed, and he is as guilty as his co-defendant Ahmed.
"That will be for you to decide when you've heard all of the evidence."
The court also heard Abrini visited at least one casino during his time in the UK - both before and after the alleged cash handover took place - but there "was no clear evidence" the money had been gambled.
Mr Hill said telecommunications evidence suggested there was a "convergence" of the three men near Small Heath Park in Birmingham on July 10 last year before a "pre-arranged cash handover meeting" the following afternoon.
The court heard Abrini was interviewed by Belgian investigators on April 20 and 21 this year and told them he had travelled to Syria to visit his brother's grave.
Mr Hill said that while there Abrini recalled meeting a man called "Abaaoud" who asked him to collect some money in the UK and supplied him with phone numbers.
Abrini was instructed to travel to Birmingham the day after he arrived in London and was told to go to the Small Heath Park area "several times" only to find no one there, the court heard.
But on his third day in Birmingham he was led to a forest to collect the money, Mr Hill said.
Jurors were told Abrini described Ahmed as the man who guided him to the location and Boufassil as the one who handed over the money in a bag.
He said Boufassil told him it had taken so long to organise the meeting because he had to "verify with Syria" that he was not an imposter.
The money was withdrawn from a bank account held by Anwar Haddouchi, who previously lived in Birmingham, he said.
Mr Hill said Haddouchi was an associate of Ahmed and had left the UK before July last year and travelled to Syria to fight for Islamic State (Daesh).
He told the court: "Abrini had come to collect the money in the UK. The destination of the money would certainly include Syria - it would appear Daesh, also known as Islamic State - either to Haddouchi himself or to other fighters."
French national Azzedine Kaddour, 26, has known Haddouchi since he was 15 years old and said he was like a "big brother".
In a witness statement read to court, he said Haddouchi "cared a lot about money" and received benefits. His wife was also given 500 euros a month by her father.
The prosecution allege benefit payments were still going into Haddouchi's Lloyds TSB account after he had left the country in the summer of 2014.
A statement from another friend, Ilyass Sakhi, described receiving graphic picture messages from the man's phone via WhatsApp before eventually changing his number on advice from Belgian police.
He said he got messages including images of "people dying", "Muslim children killed" and corpses for up to a year after he last saw Haddouchi, but could not be sure he was the one sending them.
The trial continues.