Spy chiefs deny plotting to kill terrorist's lawyer: French authorities say Verges was not an assassination target, while Khartoum seeks reward for trapping fugitive

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THE former chiefs of France's secret services yesterday rejected claims by Jacques Verges, the lawyer representing the terrorist Carlos, that the state sought his assassination in the early 1980s.

Mr Verges, who has been accused of being an operational member of Carlos's group, said at the end of last week that the secret services had received instructions to eliminate him.

His claim gained limited credibility when an equally controversial former gendarmerie officer - who, incidentally, has also been a client of the left-wing lawyer - said he knew Mr Verges' allegation to be true. Mr Verges, meanwhile, said in a television interview that the order came 'from the head of state, that is, from Francois Mitterrand'. It was a continuation of the former Communist lawyer's long-standing feud with the French non-Marxist left.

But Pierre Marion, who was head of the French espionage service at the time Mr Verges said his life was threatened, and Yves Bonnet, who ran the counter-espionage agency, both denied there had ever been an assassination list featuring Mr Verges. The charge was the fabrication of 'mediatisation addicts', Mr Bonnet said.

The affair brought together two of modern France's more bizarre personalities, Captain Paul Barril, the former head of the gendarmerie's elite commando squad and security adviser to Mr Mitterrand, and Mr Verges, whose varied biography and propensity to defend cases which embarrass the French state are legendary.

Mr Barril left the police because of the case of the Vincennes Irishmen soon after Mr Mitterrand's first election to the presidency in 1981. Irishmen living in the Paris suburb of Vincennes were found to have had arms planted in their home. It was alleged that the police, including Mr Barril, seeking a public victory against terrorism, had tried to frame the Irishmen.

Since then, Mr Barril has surfaced from time to time in odd circumstances. Recently he said he possessed the 'black box' from the plane in which the Rwandan and Burundian presidents died when their aircraft was shot down on 6 April. That led to the massacres in Rwanda which prompted France to send troops there.

However, upon examination, Mr Barril's piece of equipment turned out to be another, less important, part of the plane. It was not related to the flight recorder.

Mr Barril said in a television interview that Mr Verges had been a 'priority target' because 'he was in the centre of all terrorist contacts'.

Mr Verges, who defended Klaus Barbie, the Nazi 'Butcher of Lyons' and a series of terrorists in the 1980s, first made his name defending Algerian nationalists during the 1954-62 Algerian war.

He disappeared for most of the 1970s, a period about which he refuses to comment. One version of his activities has the lawyer in the entourage of Pol Pot after the Khmer Rouges embarked on bloody massacres following their takeover of Cambodia in 1975.

The various Verges charges first started when Le Monde said that the Stasi, the former East German security police, had evidence in its archives that Mr Verges had been an actual member of the Carlos group. The charges have served to overshadow the case of Carlos himself, who was put into a French jail last week after being deported from Sudan.

The latest episode had the Stasi believing that Mr Verges in fact worked for the American CIA, the conservative daily Le Figaro reported yesterday. It said that documents showed the Stasi worked on the theory that his defence of Barbie had been organised by the CIA.

Mr Verges is also accused of helping to set up a bomb attack on a French nuclear reactor 12 years ago. He told Le Figaro that this allegation was 'a divine surprise. Verges is not just a sleeping agent but a terrorist. Let them charge me then.'