Wednesday, April 27, 2005

London granny blew my cover, says French spy

By Henry Samuel in Paris
Daily Telegraph

A former French spy has revealed how he gave British intelligence the slip to shadow Islamists in London but eventually had his cover blown by a nosey grandmother.

In his new book, Pierre Martinet details how he prepared the way for follow-up teams to "neutralise" several Islamist suspects in foreign capitals, including London, should French politicians decide to put them out of action.

According to the publishers, the book, La DGSE, Action Service, An Agent Comes Out of the Shadow, out tomorrow, sets a precedent as the first time a former officer of DGSE, France's foreign intelligence service, has given a hands-on account of the profession.

Mr Martinet claims to have spent several months in London monitoring Abu Walid, a suspected member of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, the GIA, with links to al-Qa'eda.

He says his unit also spied on Abu Hamza, the radical cleric suspected of turning Finsbury Park mosque into a base for turning devout Muslims into terrorists.

Abu Hamza, infamous for praising Osama Bin Laden and warning the Government about the consequences of attacking Iraq, was arrested last year on an extradition warrant issued by the US government.

Mr Martinet's other operations included stints in Stockholm and Geneva, where his task was to track down the fugitive Serbian war criminal, Radovan Karadzic.

But he insisted that no country, including Britain - whose secret services enjoy an excellent reputation in France - was aware of his presence.

"Never," he said. "We work as in the Second World War films. Each of us has a false identity, false passports; we only communicate in bars and make sure we're never followed."

The shaven-headed, unassuming 41-year-old also dispelled the glamorous myths associated with secret agents. "James Bond is the anti-agent par excellence," he said. "He wears a tuxedo, drives an Aston Martin and gets the girls. We, on the other hand, rent cheap Renaults, avoid cocktails, use false names, and never stand out."

However, some of his attempts at "blending in" may have raised a few suspicions. On one mission to London he thought it best to grow sideburns and sport a tweed cap. He also admits that his pidgin English was a serious handicap.

But without doubt an agent's worst enemy, he claimed, is the nosey grandmother who peeps through her curtains and rings the police if she notices anything untoward. Such a nightmare neighbour forced him to abandon his surveillance of Abu Walid's home in Wembley, which he nicknames "Londonistan", and flee the capital.

He said: "A police car pulled up. I was able to fob them off by saying I was waiting for a football match, but once they radioed my identity, it would only take a call to Interpol to unmask me, so I had to leave London immediately."

Once an agent's cover is blown, even in a friendly country, they generally spend the rest of their career "in the cupboard", he said.

Another weak point shared by French secret agents in London was their inability to drive on the left. So his unit had a right-hand-drive vehicle shipped over the Channel to give them practice.

His first mission to London was also his first ever visit to the UK. "For me, London was James Bond, Shakespeare, the Beatles, and French footballers who had emigrated," he said. "It's clear that the English can't stand us and we return the compliment."
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