Three French intelligence agents charged with attempted murder and conspiracy were plotting to kill a female hypnotherapist and corporate coach, according to local media reports.
The suspects are serving soldiers from the Action Division, an elite military unit specialising in covert missions outside France, controlled by the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE), the French equivalent of MI6.
Two of them, named as Pierre B. and Karl E, aged 28 and 25, were arrested carrying guns in a stolen car in Paris last month, and the third, aged 26, was arrested a few days later.
The first two told police they were on an official mission, having allegedly been ordered to eliminate a 54-year-old hypnotherapist specialising in corporate coaching. She has not been named.
The pair were arrested near the presumed target’s home in Créteil, south-east Paris, at 8-20 am on July 24 after a neighbour of the woman phoned police and reported that they had driven round the block repeatedly during the night. The agents said the killing was to have taken place that morning.
Investigators have found no link between the agents and the hypnotherapist, according to Le Parisien newspaper. They are exploring a theory that they were paid to murder her by someone who had a personal dispute with her.
Questioned by detectives, she said she was extremely shocked by the revelation that someone had wanted to kill her. She suggested that the plot could have been motivated by professional rivalry among coaches and psychotherapists. But sources close to the investigation said it appeared disproportionate to recruit intelligence agents to murder her over a professional disagreement.
Two men suspected of masterminding the plot have also been charged with attempted murder and conspiracy, along with the three intelligence agents.
One is the head of a security firm specialising in guarding VIPs. His company also “sweeps” offices and homes for bugging devices, follows people and transports sensitive goods, documents and funds.
Le Parisien quoted one of his associates as saying: “He thought he was James Bond.”
The other suspected mastermind is a former agent of the domestic arm of French intelligence who is now an “e-detective” who tracks online fraud and illicit trading. He specialises in gathering information from the “deep web”, parts of the World Wide Web whose contents are not indexed by standard search engines, often used for clandestine and criminal purposes. His company provides fraud prevention training for private customers and the DGSE. He is thought to have met the agents charged with attempted murder during a course for the service.
The agents’ claim to have been on a DGSE mission is striking as the external service is barred from carrying out such operations on French soil, according to security sources.
They breached rules by telling police they worked for the DGSE, featured in the hit French TV series, The Bureau. French intelligence agents are ordered never to reveal for whom they work.
But according to sources close to the investigation, they insist that they were not the “brains behind the operation” and that their agency would get them cleared. But their superiors did not intervene on their behalf when detectives took the suspects to search their rooms at the Action Division’s parachute centre in Saran, central France, where operatives are trained to operate in enemy territory.
“This case is as murky as it gets,” said one source close to the investigation. “It’s like being lost in the Bermuda Triangle.”
The two agents arrested with weapons are in custody. The third, who has not been named, was released on bail.