£5,400 housing benefit overpayments made to 'terror funding' account, court told

Updated: 

A bank account from which £3,000 was allegedly withdrawn to be given to Brussels bombing suspect Mohamed Abrini received thousands of pounds in overpaid housing benefits leading up to the claimed handover, a court has heard.

Prosecutors allege that Abrini received the cash payment from defendant Zakaria Boufassil, 26, together with Mohammed Ali Ahmed, in July 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 and denies sharing the intention of his co-accused Ahmed, who, a jury at Kingston Crown Court has been told, admitted the same offence on November 8.

The court has also heard that Abrini is now in custody in Belgium, charged with terrorist murder over the Brussels attack in March this year, but moved between London, Birmingham and Manchester during his visit to the UK between July 9 and 16 2015.

The £3,000 was withdrawn from a bank account held by Anouar Haddouchi, an associate of Ahmed who previously lived in Birmingham before travelling to Syria to fight for Islamic State,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 heard that Haddouchi claimed housing and council tax benefit from Birmingham City Council from September 2009.

While the council tax reduction was eventually withdrawn, the information about the termination of his tenancy was not passed on to the benefit service which administered the housing benefit, it was heard.

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

The court heard that a person claiming to be Haddouchi, who was in fact Ahmed, called Lloyds Bank in May 2015 and reported a lost debit card.

The bank issued a new card to an address in Birmingham, which Ahmed collected after making contact with the new occupant, the court heard.

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.

They also heard that telecommunications data suggested a sim card attributed to Boufassil was moved between handsets in the hours before Abrini landed at Heathrow at about 9pm on July 9 2015, having flown in from Istanbul, Turkey.

The court was also told that geographic patterns drawn from telecommunications analysis suggested mobile phones attributed to Abrini, Ahmed and Boufassil were all in an area encompassing Small Heath Park in Birmingham on the evening of July 10.

The court has previously heard that a "pre-arranged cash handover meeting" involving the three men took place the following afternoon.

The jury was guided through a detailed phone log of multiple numbers attributed to the trio between 3.29pm and 5.10pm on that day.

Crown prosecutor Max Hill QC asked analyst Dr Iain Brodie if the data was "consistent with them having been together during the period 1529 to 1534".

Dr Brodie agreed that it was, though 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 was dubbed "the man in the hat" after the Brussels attacks, during 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.

The court heard Abrini made multiple visits to the Grosvenor Casino on Hill Street while in Birmingham, including on the evening of July 11.

A mobile phone attributed to him contained an image of a roulette gaming machine taken shortly after midnight, jurors heard.

The handset also had pictures of St Martin's Church and Selfridges in the city centre, it was told.

Mr Hill posed to witness Detective Sergeant Ryan Chambers that there was "no suggestion" the pictures, which also included shots of the Old Trafford stadium from Abrini's time in Manchester, were indicative of anything other than general "tourist" interests.

DS Chambers replied: "No there is not."

Belgian authorities seized Abrini's phone on July 27 and downloaded photographs of Small Heath Park and the Bull Ring, the court heard.