The first wave of U.S. air strikes in Syria last month targeted a former French intelligence officer who defected to al Qaeda, Mitchell Prothero of McClatchy reports.
European intelligence officials told McClatchy that the French officer, whose identity is a secret, is the highest ranking defector to ever go to al-Qaeda. He reportedly defected from either French military intelligence or from France’s foreign intelligence agency (DGSE).
Prothero reports that the agent-turned-terrorist was among the targets when eight locations occupied by the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, were hit by 47 cruises missiles.
U.S. officials have previously said that the airstrikes targeted members of Khorasan, a group of al-Qaeda veterans dispatched to Syria to plan attacks on Western targets.
However, the “former French officer may have been a more important target,” Prothero reports, and is believed to have survived.
One European intelligence official told McClatchy that the man is “highly trained in Western intelligence trade-craft and explosives.”
Hundreds of Westerners have joined extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, but the recruitment of a Western intelligence official is especially startling.
Another intelligence official, who learned of the man from casual conversation (as opposed to official briefing), said it’s the first time he’s heard of “someone with legitimate security clearance and Western-style vetting and training” who defected to an extremist group.
U.S. and French official declined to discuss the defected agent, and one European official called his existence “absolutely top secret.”
“I’m rather appalled I’m even having this conversation,” he added.
The U.S. continues to carry out airstrikes against ISIS and al-Nusra positions in Iraq and Syria.
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