A British man has been found guilty of paying “the man in the hat” who was seen on video footage moments before the fatal bombing in Brussels airport in March.
Zakaria Boufassil may have been the one on trial, but it was the details of Brussels bomb suspect Mohamed Abrini’s trip to the UK which has drawn the most attention.
Abrini, who has admitted being with the Brussels airport suicide bombers immediately before the attack in March, spent a week in England in July 2015, just months before the November 13 terror attacks in Paris, which the French authorities have accused him of involvement in.
But even though he visited various high profile sites including Birmingham’s Bullring and Old Trafford and the Arndale Centre in Manchester, Abrini denied he was on a reconnaissance mission, claiming the UK security services made the country “more difficult to attack”.
Instead, the Belgian Moroccan told his Belgian interrogators he was a gambling addict and had been to casinos in both cities.
His claims emerged in transcripts of the interviews revealed during Boufassil’s trial.
With a number of previous convictions for burglary, Abrini was also noted as being “associated” with Brussels’ brothers Salah and Brahim Abdeslam, who were both involved in the Paris attacks.
During his UK visit, between July 9-16, 2015, Abrini said he visited casinos in Birmingham and Manchester, as well as Old Trafford, the Arndale Shopping Centre and the Bullring.
He had a number of images on his phone of his travels, including one of a roulette machine, Manchester United’s ground, and a moth in one of his hotel rooms.
Abrini said: “There’s no plan to target England as a potential site for a terrorist act. From what I know it’s France who is declared enemy of Islamic State. I think England has a more developed secret service, better observation techniques and it’s therefore more difficult to attack.”
Quizzed on whether he was hiding information to protect others of “his group” who are in England he said:
“No, not at all. There are no other members in England and I am hiding no one. In my eyes too, those I met in England have nothing to do with the attacks in Paris and or Brussels.”