A convicted terrorist suspect who aided the Brussels bombers has claimed that he was recruited and groomed by UK spies before being thrown “to the wolves” once he was no longer deemed useful.
Zakaria Boufassil, who was sentenced to three years in jail on Monday after being convicted of aiding terrorism, had handed £3,000 to a jihadist named Mohammed Abrini in the city of Birmingham in July of 2015, just months before Abrini was involved in the 2016 Brussels bombing.
Moroccan-born Abrini became known as ‘the man in the hat’ after being spotted on CCTV in the Belgian capital ahead of the suicide bombings that killed 32 civilians. Abrini was also connected with the 2015 Paris attacks.
Boufassil claims that he was groomed by MI5 – Britain’s internal security agency – starting six weeks after Abrini was arrested in April of 2016, when Boufassil was approached and befriended by spies, who allegedly bought him cigarettes, clothes, and a phone, and also gave him £3,000.
He was later arrested upon returning from a Moroccan holiday that he claimed to have paid for with the MI5 money.
Despite vain attempts by prosecutors to keep his claim from being reported, the Guardian reported on Monday that his barrister said, “in Zakaria’s eyes, he feels he was effectively picked up by MI5 and was pumped and dumped.
“He found himself approached by the security service and he was reluctant at first, then more gradually, he told them what he knew about Abrini and the meeting in the park,” Dorian Lovell-Park QC argued in court.
“He was told by MI5 he wasn’t in any trouble and was told they were interested in signing him up or having him on their books.
“He feels he ceased to be of any use to them and he was effectively thrown to the wolves,” Boufassil’s lawyer said.
The prosecution has refused to confirm or deny the defendant’s claims, as is standard MI5 procedure.
Boufassil was convicted along with another man, Mohammed Ali Ahmed, who was given eight years for the same offences.