UK

Most Senior Intelligence Official To Ever Defect To Al Qaeda Dodges 47 US Cruise Missiles

06/10/2014 13:28 BST | Updated 06/10/2014 15:59 BST

A French intelligence officer who defected to Al Qaeda was among the targets of the first wave of US airstrikes on Syria, it has been reported.

Described as the most senior intelligence official to ever defect to the terrorist group, the former officer is said to be “highly trained in Western intelligence trade-craft and explosives” and survived the 47 cruise missiles that hit eight locations used by Al Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria, in September.

The existence of the French officer is “absolutely top secret,” an intelligence official told the US news agency McClatchy. Another said: “I’m rather appalled I’m even having this conversation.”

tall al qitar

A structure in Tall Al Qitar, Syria moments after a US airstrike

He is understood to have gone through exceptionally comprehensive vetting that is standard for those working in intelligence and counter-terror.

The news agency said different officials independently gave it the name of the defector but they are not publishing it, fearing violence against his family.

The defector reportedly fought in Afghanistan before travelling to Syria and operates out of a mosque in Idlib, in northwestern Syria.

“We don’t know if he was sleeper or radicalised after he joined the service,” another European intelligence official told McClatchy.

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“I assume my French colleagues are working hard to determine that and if they have figured it out, they certainly aren’t sharing how they ended up in this mess, which as you could expect they find rather embarrassing.”

Another, from a different country, told the agency the defection was "an epic nightmare that we have so far been spared".

Another European official told the agency that the decision to target the defector with missiles reflected the French Government's desire to keep it secret.

“Perhaps some problems are best buried forever under a pile of rubble,” he said.

The US attacks on Syria hit the Khorosan Group, a previously little-known group that was said to be planning an imminent attack on the West, and Islamic State positions.