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Old Trafford pictures on phone linked to terror suspect were 'tourism interest'

Published 25/11/2016

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

Pictures of Old Trafford stadium in Manchester and Birmingham city centre found on a phone allegedly used by Brussels bombing suspect Mohamed Abrini while in the UK were likely taken out of "tourism interest", a court has heard.

A Kingston Crown Court jury has heard Abrini, dubbed "the man in the hat" after the March 2016 attacks, was in the country between July 9 and 16 2015 and spent time in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

During this visit, prosecutors allege he received a £3,000 cash payment from defendant Zakaria Boufassil, 26, together with Mohammed Ali Ahmed, when he 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 and denies sharing the intention of his co-accused Ahmed, whom the jury has heard admitted the same offence on November 8.

On Friday, jurors were shown telecommunications data that found a handset attributed to Abrini during his trip contained images of sites including St Martin's Church and a Selfridges in the Birmingham city centre, as well items such as a roulette gaming machine.

Questioning case officer Detective Sergeant Ryan Chambers, Crown prosecutor Max Hill QC suggested Abrini took "a lot of images" during the visit, including of Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, but posed there was no suggestion of any intention or motivation beyond a general "tourism interest".

Mr Chambers replied: "No there is not."

Further phone data analysis suggested the 31-year-old made multiple visits to the Grosvenor Casino in Birmingham before and after the cash handover allegedly took place on the afternoon of July 11 2015 in an area near the Small Heath Park, it was heard.

The jury heard Abrini, now in custody in Belgium charged with terrorist murder over the Brussels attack and wanted by French authorities in relation to the Paris attacks in November 2015, flew to Paris from Birmingham on July 16.

The £3,000 was withdrawn from a bank account held by Anouar Haddouchi, an associate of Ahmed who previously lived in Birmingham before travelling to Syria to fight for Islamic State, it has been told.

On Friday, jurors also heard Haddouchi claimed housing and council tax benefit from Birmingham City Council from September 2009 and, while the council tax reduction was eventually withdrawn, the information about the termination of his tenancy was not passed on to the benefit service which administered the housing benefit.

The jury was told that between December 21 2014 and November 1 2015 housing benefit payments in total sum of £5,413 had been overpaid to the account.

Jurors were then shown a table of 17 withdrawals made between May 30 and June 30 2015, including numerous £300 instalments, and told each was made by Ahmed using a replacement debit card he had obtained for the account.

Analyst Dr Iain Brodie also gave evidence and agreed telecommunications data was "consistent with (Ahmed, Boufassil and Abrini) having been together during the period 1529 to 1534" on July 11 in an area encompassing Small Heath Park.

However he noted there was some contact between the phones at that time.

The jury was also shown a map drawn from two numbers attributed to Abrini, who it was heard landed in London from Istanbul on July 9, across his entire visit to the UK.

Dr Brodie said it showed phones apparently used by Abrini being in the London area on July 9 and 10, Birmingham on July 10, 11 and 12, Manchester on July 14 and 15 and Birmingham again on July 15 and 16.

The trial before Justice Jeremy Baker continues.

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