French ex-spy casts doubt on Abu Hamza 'murder plot'
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A report claiming that French intelligence planned to assassinate Islamist cleric Abu Hamza on the streets of London in the late 1990s was on Monday dismissed as “madcap” by a former member of the DGSE French spy agency.
A claim that France planned to assassinate Islamist preacher Abu Hamza in London in the late 1990s was dismissed by a former French intelligence analyst on Monday as a “madcap” idea that “no-one would have taken seriously”.
According to a report released by British anti-racism group Hope not Hate on Monday, the French DGSE spy agency had “serious concerns” about security in the run-up to the 1998 World Cup and was looking at ways to eliminate Hamza, who was then openly preaching violent jihad in London.
Hope not Hate’s report claimed the DGSE planned to “impersonate British neo-Nazi group Combat 18 and then allow them to take the blame” for Hamza’s assassination.
The French spies planned to send fake death threats from the far-right group and to kill him using weapons associated with the group, the report said.
According to Hope not hate, France was “angered” by an alleged “covenant of security” under which Britain gave Islamist groups “a degree of freedom and tolerance” in the UK on the understanding that no acts of terror would be carried out on British soil.
This anger boiled over to outrage after it emerged that the 1995 Paris metro bombings, in which eight people were killed and hundreds more injured, had been masterminded in London, the report said.
Hamza was under ‘unimpeachably close surveillance’
Former DGSE analyst Yves Trotignon, now a consultant with French security firm Risk&Co, gave a very different perspective on the relationship between French and British intelligence services in the 1990s.
While admitting that “one or two” members of French intelligence were “frustrated” that Islamist preachers were allowed to operate freely in London, Trotignon said that the DGSE respected British intelligence agency MI5’s different approach.
“Our number one priority was always cooperation with the British, who had outspoken Islamists like Abu Hamza under unimpeachably close surveillance,” he told FRANCE 24.
“We understood perfectly that for legal reasons they could not be arrested, but MI5 always knew exactly what these people were doing, with whom they were communicating and what they were thinking.
“And they shared all this information with us.”
Trotignon denied that any senior member of French intelligence would have seriously considered an assassination plot on a high-profile target like Abu Hamza in London.
“French intelligence bosses have some fairly madcap ideas put in front of them – and I can’t say categorically that something like this wasn’t thought up by someone somewhere,” he said.
“But it would have been thrown straight in the bin,” he insisted. “No one would ever have given the green light to something so obviously politically counter-productive.”
When contacted by FRANCE 24, Hope not Hate Chief Executive Nick Lowes insisted that he was “100 percent sure” the information, given to him by a “reliable” DGSE source, was good.
“There was a ‘scoping exercise’ into the feasibility of such a plan,” he said. “The French intelligence services were definitely considering whether Combat 18 could be blamed” for Hamza’s assassination.
Hamza extradited to US in 2012
Hope not Hate’s report, titled “Gateway to Terror”, outlines an extensive investigation into the activities of British Islamist Anjem Choudary and the banned Al-Muhajiroun network he helped to found.
Choudary, Hope not Hate claims, “sits at the nexus of a terrorist network with links to the conflict in Syria, the al-Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia, to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Hamza, who lost both hands and an eye fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, was the focus of intense media attention in the UK because of his openly jihadist agenda.
He was jailed for seven years in 2006 for inciting murder and racial hatred and was extradited to the US in 2012 to face terrorism charges.