Man convicted of terror offence claimed he was 'thrown to wolves by MI5'


A man convicted of a terror-related offence claimed he was recruited by MI5 after he met Brussels bombing suspect Mohamed Abrini - before being "thrown to the wolves" when he stopped being useful to them.

Zakaria Boufassil, 26, was last week found guilty of engaging in conduct in preparation of acts of terrorism by supplying cash to Abrini, who was dubbed the "man in the hat" over his alleged involvement in the terror attacks on the Belgian capital in March.

Boufassil and Mohammed Ali Ahmed, 27, who pleaded guilty to the offence, handed over £3,000 in cash to Abrini on July 11 last year in a secret rendezvous in a Birmingham park.

The pair, both of Birmingham, are expected to be sentenced in Kingston Crown Court, in London's south west, on Monday afternoon.

At the sentencing hearing, Justice Jeremy Baker discharged a previous order banning the reporting of Boufassil's MI5 assertions.

It can now be reported Boufassil claimed he was contacted by MI5 personnel after the meeting and given up to £3,000 in exchange for information.

His lawyer, Dorian Lovell-Pank QC, had argued that it was important for the jury to know about the apparent MI5 link as it showed Boufassil did not hold any allegiance to a particular terrorist movement or cause.

Mr Lovell-Pank told the court that some time after the exchange in the park Boufassil, who was born in Belgium but whose family is from Morocco, was contacted by people he believed to be working for MI5.

Following a number of meetings agents allegedly gave him money - up to £3,000, which he used to buy a return flight to see his girlfriend in Casablanca - along with clothes and his favourite cigarettes.

But when he returned from Morocco via Marrakesh in April he was arrested at Gatwick by counter-terrorism officers.

Mr Lovell-Pank told the court: "Zakaria Boufassil feels that he was effectively picked up by MI5 and 'pumped and dumped'.

"He feels he may have ceased to be of any use to them and as a result was effectively thrown to the wolves, which is in fact what happened."

Karen Robinson, prosecuting, said she could neither "confirm nor deny" the claims about MI5, and the judge ruled them inadmissible and stopped them being used as evidence in his defence.

At the sentencing hearing on Monday, Mr Lovell-Pank submitted Boufassil was "little more than an errand boy" and said there was no evidence of any direct involvement with the money itself until "the last moment".

It came after Crown prosecutor Max Hill QC said Abrini had identified Ahmed as the man who led him to the forest meeting and Boufassil as the one who handed him the money after asking who sent him, explaining he had to "verify with Syria that he was not an imposter".

He said Abrini was subject to three different warrants relating to the Brussels bombing as well as the November 2015 Paris attacks.

The court heard Ahmed took the money from an account held by Anouar Haddouchi, an associate who previously lived in Birmingham and had travelled to Syria to fight for Islamic State, into which payments of overpaid housing benefits totalling £5,413 had been paid between December 21 2014 and November 1 2015.

But Ahmed's barrister, Stephen Kamlish QC, said it was notable his client changed his mind about travelling to Syria and "was more of a dreamer, in this respect, than a doer". The pair are expected to be sentenced at 2pm.