Hundreds of thousands of pounds of British housing and child welfare payments have been used to fund Islamic terrorism in recent years, a former watchdog head claims.
Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, issued the warning after it emerged on Tuesday that two men living in Birmingham handed thousands in wrongly-paid state handouts to Brussels terrorism suspect ‘The Man in the Hat’.
Carlile told the Times that “several hundred thousand pounds in small remittances have been used to fund terrorism in one way or another,” including for weapons and travel for those joining Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
“[Such activity] has increased during the rise of ISIS. Certainly the government should ensure that there is no more triage available when housing benefits recipients are known to have gone to another country,” Carlile said.
On Tuesday, Belgian national Zakaria Boufassil was convicted of helping to fund terrorism by giving cash from overpaid benefits to Brussels bombing suspect Mohamed Abrini during a secret rendezvous in a Birmingham park.
Boufassil, together with Mohammed Ali Ahmed, supplied £3,000 (US$3,780) to Abrini, who was dubbed ‘The Man in the Hat’ after he was allegedly caught on CCTV at Brussels Airport just before the bombing in March.
The cash was obtained from welfare payments given in error to Anouar Haddouchi, another Belgian who had already been fighting for IS in Syria for a year. He had claimed welfare in Britain since 2009 despite mostly living in Saudi Arabia.
Nearly £11,000 was paid into his account after he and his wife left for the war zone. Birmingham City Council has apologized for the error, which meant that nearly £6,000 was paid even after it was informed the pair had vacated their housing.
Abrini, who had been sent from Syria to Britain by a member of his IS cell to collect the cash, is awaiting trial in Belgium.
Haddouchi joins a long line of extremists who have received taxpayer funds. They include the three sisters from Bradford who traveled with their children to Syria last year and are believed to have used income support and child tax credits to fund the trip.
Boufassil, 26, was found guilty at Kingston Crown Court in London of engaging in conduct in preparation of acts of terrorism.
Ahmed pleaded guilty to the same offence at a hearing last month. He had been on the radar of MI5 and on police bail when he helped Boufassil hand over the cash, having already impersonated Haddouchi to gain access to his bank account.
Boufassil and Ahmed will be sentenced next week.
The pair is thought to have been sympathetic to Islamist ideology but unaware of the Brussels attack plans.