UK pair linked to Brussels, Paris attacks suspect jailed

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Zakaria Boufassil (left) received a three-year jail sentence while Mohamed Ali Ahmed (right) was given an eight-year term for helping Brussels and Paris terror suspect Mohamed Abrini

Zakaria Boufassil (left) received a three-year jail sentence while Mohamed Ali Ahmed (right) was given an eight-year term for helping Brussels and Paris terror suspect Mohamed Abrini (AFP Photo/)

London (AFP) - A British court on Monday jailed two men for up to eight years for handing money to Brussels and Paris terror attacks suspect Mohamed Abrini when he visited Britain last year.

Mohammed Ali Ahmed and Zakaria Boufassil gave £3,000 ($3,770, 3,550 euros) in cash to Abrini in the central English city of Birmingham in July 2015, knowing it would be used for terrorism.

Ahmed, a 27-year-old from Birmingham, had pleaded guilty to the offence last month and received an eight-year jail term.

Boufassil, a 26-year-old Belgian citizen also from Birmingham, had admitted meeting Abrini in a Birmingham park and holding the money for Ahmed, but said he had "no idea" of its intended use.

However, a jury dismissed this claim last week and he was sentenced to three years behind bars.

Judge Jeremy Baker said Ahmed was motivated by "extreme Islamist beliefs" but said Boufassil's role was "more limited".

It emerged Monday, after the judge lifted reporting restrictions, that Boufassil claimed he was recruited by British intelligence agency MI5 after the meeting with Abrini.

He claimed to have been given up to £3,000 in exchange for information, using it to go to Morocco to see his girlfriend. He was arrested on his return in April 2016.

Boufassil's lawyer tried to use the MI5 claim to argue that he did not hold any allegiance to a particular terrorist group or cause.

The prosecuting lawyer said she could neither "confirm nor deny" the claims, and the judge ruled they could not be used in evidence.

Abrini was dubbed the "man in the hat" after his image was caught on security cameras before the Brussels attacks in March, which left 32 people dead.

He is in custody in Belgium, but is also suspected of providing support for the Paris attacks in November 2015, in which 130 people died.

Boufassil's trial heard that Abrini had told Belgian investigators how he was told by a cell in Syria to visit Britain and collect the money.

The cash was withdrawn from the bank account of an associate of Ahmed, Anwar Haddouchi, who had travelled to Syria to fight for the Islamic State group.

Baker told Ahmed that he had "for some time and continues to hold extreme Islamist beliefs, and that you are committed to the cause of Islamic State".