UK man found guilty in case linked to Brussels bomb suspect

AP News
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Posted: Dec 06, 2016 11:10 AM
UK man found guilty in case linked to Brussels bomb suspect

LONDON (AP) — A British man was found guilty Tuesday of providing cash to a key suspect in the deadly Brussels and Paris bombings in a case that linked England to the Islamic State group attacks in Europe.

Zakaria Boufassil was convicted of "engaging in conduct in preparation of acts of terrorism" by providing 3,000 pounds ($3,700) to bombing suspect Mohamed Abrini at a secret meeting in Birmingham, England.

Abrini is the "man in the hat" seen on video footage moments before the March 22 bombings at the Brussels airport that killed 16 people. He also is wanted in the multiple attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015 that claimed 130 victims.

Boufassil, 26, and accomplice Mohammed Ali Ahmed, 27, who earlier pleaded guilty, could face life imprisonment when they are sentenced in Kingston Crown Court next week.

West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Marcus Beale said the conviction was important because the money transfer "identified a dangerous link" to Abrini.

Prosecutors said Abrini visited England in July 2015 and received the cash from Boufassil at a Birmingham park.

Boufassil acknowledged meeting Abrini in the park, but said the encounter had nothing to do with extremism.

During his trial, he told the court he was a marijuana user who practiced a "moderate and tolerant" form of Islam. He condemned Islamic State extremists as "worse than animals."

But a jury believed prosecutors' claims that Boufassil knowingly provided the money to support militant attacks. Prosecutor Max Hill said there is "no doubt" the money — from a bank account that included overpaid public housing benefits —was given to Abrini to assist acts of terrorism.

Abrini, who is in custody in Belgium, told investigators his visit to England was not a reconnaissance trip to scout out possible sites for future attacks in Britain, according to parts of an interview that were read out loud in court.

During his interview with Belgian officials, Abrini he visited casinos in Birmingham and Manchester, the famous Old Trafford soccer stadium, and a shopping center.

He said there was no plan to attack England because of its strong intelligence service and high level of surveillance.

U.K. officials have judged the threat of an extremist attack in Britain to be severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.