£5,000 in mispaid housing benefit ‘used to fund Isis terror cell’

More than £5,000 in mispaid housing benefit was used to fund an Islamic State terror cell linked to the Paris and Brussels attacks, a court has heard.

Belgian national Anaour Haddouchi left Birmingham to join the terrorist organisation in Syria in the summer of 2014, and was joined by his Belgian wife a few months later, lawyers said.

Kingston crown court heard that Haddouchi and his wife let their home in Small Heath through an agency called Golden Estates when they left the country. It was claimed the letting agent wrote to Birmingham city council on 12 January last year to say that Haddouchi had left the property three weeks earlier and asked to cancel the council tax liability.

However, the court heard that details of the tenancy termination were not passed to the Benefits Service, which kept paying housing benefit for another year. Between 21 December 2014 and 1 November 2015, housing benefit of £5,413.06 was paid into a joint account in the name of Haddouchi and his wife, Julie Maes.

After their departure, two men allegedly accessed the couple’s account in Birmingham and handed the cash over to Mohamed Abrini in a park in Small Heath, in July 2015. Abrini, who is charged with involvement in the Brussels airport attacks in March this year, has been dubbed the “Man in the Hat” due to the headgear he is seen wearing in CCTV footage.

Haddouchi had opened an Islamic current account with Lloyds Bank in November 2009 and added his wife as joint holder in January 2010, the court heard. On 20 May 2015, a person claiming to be Haddouchi made a telephone call to Lloyds reporting his debit card as lost.

Although the bank was unable to complete security checks, it issued a new debit card that was sent to the Small Heath property. Prosecutors claimed the call was made by Mohammed Ali Ahmed, who later visited the property and convinced the new tenant to hand over any letters for Haddouchi.

Ahmed then withdrew a total of £5,050 from the account in 16 instalments of £300 and one of £250, the court heard. Over the course of a month between 30 May and 30 June, he visited cash machines at Barclays, the Post Office, Tesco, Morrisons, TSB and Nationwide in Small Heath, Sparkbrook and Yardley Wood.

The bank account details showed he was receiving £238.20 a fortnight in housing benefit and £136.20 a month in child benefit.

Max Hill QC, prosecuting, said the money was for destined for Isis – either to Haddouchi himself, or other fighters. “The intention could not be more clear,” he told the court.

Mohammed Ali Ahmed, 27 and a British national, has admitted withdrawing money from Haddouchi’s account and meeting Abrini in the park. Belgian national Zakaria Boufassil, 26, was with him for the handover. Both deny helping to prepare acts of terrorism.

Abrini received £3,000 from Ahmed and Boufassil during his visit to Birmingham on 11 July last year, it is alleged. Abrini is facing charges that he was involved in the Paris attacks four months later that killed 130 people, and the Brussels bombings in March 2016 in which 32 people died.

He became notorious when CCTV images of him emerged wearing a distinctive hat and pushing a luggage trolley at the airport.

Later in the day the court heard that Abrini also visited Manchester and took a tour of the Manchester United stadium while on a visit to Britain to collect funds.

Abrini had flown into the UK from Turkey, after crossing over the border from Syria, and made his way to Birmingham by coach. He was then supposed to fly on to Paris but instead of continuing his mission, Abrini diverted to Manchester to get the onward flight.

When he got there, he went to Old Trafford to see the stadium and took photographs later found on his phone. At about 3.20pm on 14 July, Abrini took a picture near the entrance to the stadium and close to the statue of former United manager Sir Matt Busby.

There were then about 30 images taken during tour of the stadium over the next two hours. The last image was taken at 5.45pm of a white Porsche Cayenne parked on the pavement outside the Hotel Football near the stadium.

Abrini stayed the night in Manchester and the next day he went to the Arndale Centre, where he went to Thomas Cook to change some money and to book his flight. In the event, all the flights to Paris were full so he was forced to return to Birmingham once again.

Abrini also made six visits to casinos during his week-long visit, including two in Manchester – the Grosvenor and Genting – and Grosvenor casinos in Victoria in London and in Birmingham.

Haddouchi travelled by Eurotunnel from Folkestone to Calais on 12 August 2014 and then flew from Amsterdam to Istanbul, Turkey and made his way to Syria where he allegedly joined Isis. Maes left Britain in September 2014 and made her way to Syria to join her husband, the court heard.