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Brussels terror suspect Mohamed Abrini said UK "more difficult to attack"

Published 28/11/2016

Zakaria Boufassil is on trial at Kingston Crown Court
Zakaria Boufassil is on trial at Kingston Crown Court

Brussels bomb suspect Mohamed Abrini claims he was satisfying his gambling addiction during a trip to the UK, not scouting for terror targets, a court has heard.

Abrini, who is in custody in Belgium and is also wanted over the Paris attacks, also described England as a difficult target because of its "developed secret service".

The comments, made to investigators Marc Simar and Olivier Dochain on April 21, 2016, were read at Kingston Crown Court, where Zakaria Boufassil, 26, is accused of paying Abrini £ 3,000 along with with Mohammed Ali Ahmed,

Abrini, who travelled to Britain from Syria via Turkey, told the investigators: " On being arrested by you, neither in London, nor in Birmingham, nor in Manchester have I been on any reconnaissance trips in relation to preparatory terrorist attacks."

He added: "There's no plan to target England as a potential site for a terrorist act. From what I know, it's France who is declared the enemy of Islamic State.

"I think England has a more developed secret service, better observation techniques, etc ... and it's therefore more difficult to attack."

Asked if he was hiding information to protect members of "his group" in England, he said: "No, not at all. There are no other members in England and I am hiding no-one."

Boufassil and Ahmed, both from Birmingham, are charged with supplying money 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 and denies sharing the intention of Ahmed, who has admitted the offence.

The court heard that in a separate interview on April 20, 2016, Abrini, dubbed the Man in the Hat after he was caught on CCTV before the Brussels airport bombing in April, said he was in Syria when asked by an Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was near IS stronghold Raqqa, to go to the UK to "pick up some money" as a favour .

On arrival in London, he said he rang numbers he had been given by Abaaoud and was told to go to Birmingham. On the third day of his visit was told to wait for someone in a blue jacket near a pizzeria facing Small Heath park.

After 10 minutes the person arrived. Abrini said he was then taken to a forest where a second person, who he named as Zakaria, was waiting with the cash.

Abrini said: "He then asked me who has sent me to collect the money. I answered that it was Abaaoud. On these words he took out his bag and gave me the money. We did not count the money together. He told me there was £3,000."

Two days later, Abrini said he travelled to Manchester. He said he visited casinos in both cities.

Asked why, Abrini told the officers: "I am a player, a fan of casinos. I am registered a little everywhere in casinos: Lille, Essen ... I am a player, it's my addiction. I play roulette, poker and the slot machines, but only in Lille for slot machines."

On July 15, 2015, Abrini bought a ticket at a Thomas Cook in Manchester's Arndale centre to fly from Birmingham International to Charles de Gaulle the next day.

From Paris, he went to Brussels, where he handed over the money.

Abrini said the money was "not for a terrorist network" because it was "too small a sum", adding: "To carry out attacks you need lots of money."

The trial, before Justice Jeremy Baker, continues.

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