Murdered Bonn spy 'not on mission'

A SENIOR German counter-intelligence officer who was battered to death with his wife in Libya last month may have been on the track of Germans helping Libya to produce poison gas.

This was the latest explanation suggested yesterday, by the mass- circulation daily Bild, for the murder of Silvian Becker, the head of a department dealing with international terrorism, near the coastal town of Sirte.

In the absence of a lucid official account, there has also been speculation that Becker may have been hunting those responsible for blowing up the Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie in 1988.

Officials of the domestic intelligence agency BfV say it is 'unclear' why the 50-year-old agent and his wife Vera were in Libya, but they insist he was not on a mission, authorised or otherwise. According to this version, Becker had said he was going to Egypt on holiday, taking with him his four-wheel-drive vehicle. He took six weeks' leave, and was due to return last week. The officials say the cancellation of car ferries from Italy to Egypt may have forced the couple to take a ferry to Tunisia, from where they would have needed to drive through Libya to reach Egypt.

German newspapers have reported that Becker's money and credit cards were not stolen, indicating that the motive for the attack was political. Certainly the circumstances surrounding the attack on 8 March are unusual, and the official accounts are confused.

The Libyan authorities did not inform the German embassy of the incident. Security sources say a German diplomat discovered by chance that two German citizens were lying in a coma in a hospital he was visiting, two weeks after the attack. The couple had apparently been beaten with heavy instruments. Other government officials say that the embassy was first alerted by an undertaker.

The German authorities did not inform the Beckers' daughter about the attack until 3 April, almost two weeks after diplomats first learned of the incident. By that time, Becker's wife was already dead. Becker died on 9 April, a few days after his daughter had arrived in Libya.

A spokesman for the BfV - a more open equivalent of Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5 - insisted yesterday that all talk of Becker being involved in digging for secrets while on holiday was 'speculation and fantasy'.

Certainly Becker's presence in Libya - whether as a mere transit tourist or on half-official business - was in breach of every rule in the book. He would never have received permission from his employers for a private visit to Libya (his proposed visit to Egypt required notification, but could be authorised). Equally, any covert operation abroad - in Libya, or elsewhere - should be carried out by the BND, the German equivalent of MI6. The BfV is sceptical of suggestions that Libyan agents might have murdered Becker. A BfV official argued: 'If they wanted to get rid of somebody, they wouldn't do it halfway. They'd finish the job. Or they would just get rid of the body.' At the same time, it is officially acknowledged that 'many things still need to be explained'.

As counter-terrorism section head, Becker would have known about the previously unreported assassination attempt on the United States ambassador to Bonn, Vernon Walters, during the Gulf crisis. Earlier this year the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, in an effort to justify the existence of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), said that British agents had foiled an attempt in Europe on the ambassador of a key ally. What the Foreign Secretary did not reveal was the identity of the target, nor that the four-man hit team had come from Libya.

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