'I'm not hiding, but the Swiss intelligence has good connections .' Covassi
Avi Cohen
‘We had no idea which airline was being targeted.’ El Al plane
Avi Cohen

Swiss agent who saved El Al plane fears colleagues

‘I left Switzerland because secret agents searched my apartment and attacked me in street,’ says Claude Covassi, the Swiss agent who uncovered a plot to shoot down El Al plane in December 2005. ‘I turned to the media to disclose the fact that Swiss Internal security services are trying to frame an innocent man - the head of the Muslim center in Zurich, Hani Ramadan,’ he says

Claude Covassi, the Swiss agent who uncovered a plot to shoot down an El Al plane in Geneva international airport, is staying these days in Cairo with American friends.


Covassi, 35, admitted that he is weary after details of the plot have been published in Switzerland and Israel. Covassi's fear stems not from Muslims' revenge, but rather from his own country's intelligence services that "may cause me trouble," as he said.


In a phone interview with Ynet on Saturday Covassi candidly described the drama that unfolded behind the scenes of uncovering the Muslim organization's operation in Geneva, which caused him flee his handlers.


"I ran away from Switzerland because they searched my apartment and attacked me on the street. I'm not hiding, but the Swiss intelligence has good connections with other Western intelligence services. If they want to find me, it's really not a problem for them," he said.


"It's true that I'm exposing myself in these interviews, but appearing in the media is also an insurance policy for me," said Covassi.


Covassi was planted as an undercover agent in an Islamic center in Geneva to find out if a terror cell was operating in it. In order to gain the trust of the head of the Islamic center, Hani Ramadan, Covassi converted to Islam.


Covassi and his handlers were aware that an operation to attack a plane on Swiss soil was in the works, "but we had no idea which airline and where exactly it was supposed to take place. One of my missions was to find out," he said.


Covassi went on to say that he met in the mosque a young Algerian man named Bassam, who revealed to him to him plot to attack an El Al plane, although further details were not available at the time.


Covassi relayed a warning on the planned terrorist attack to his handlers on December 12, 2005.


Consequently, local security forces inspected the airport area to assess its vulnerability to a terror attack; phone and email taps on the terrorists revealed that they had planned to smuggle an RPG-7 rocket from Russia and fire it at the plane.


"The plan was exposed, but I found out that this cell is unorganized. It was not an organized terror cell but rather an independent group. They did have someone with experience who provided them support, but they had no ties to other outside terror groups. It was similar to what took place in London."


Were you afraid of becoming exposed?


"I didn't feel threatened. Of course there were risks, but my mission was to reveal information. Who financed the terrorists? Who provided them with information about the plane and weapon? Who were they in contact with?"


Only 10 days ago days Bassam and his friend Bader were arrested along with five members from the Islamic center in Geneva; some of them were carrying arms during the arrest, while the others are suspected of conspiracy.


Why did you expose the story to the media? Why now?


"I was waiting until now because I wanted them to get arrested first," said Covassi and explained that he lost confidence in his handlers and therefore turned to the media.


He said he was aware that information he gathered was also transferred to other intelligence services in an attempt to expose other terror plots.


Additionally, he said, he was asked by his handlers to fabricate incriminating details so the head of the Muslim center in Zurich, Hani Ramadan, could be arrested. "He is a cleric who has nothing to do with this story. When I realized that I was being used to incriminate him, I turned to the Blick (The Swiss newspaper that exposed the story).


Have you talked to him?


"No we haven't spoken since the story was revealed and he found out I was an agent. We contacted each other via third parties but not directly. I'm sure he is upset with me for not telling him the truth, but I'm sure he understands because he is a religious man who opposes violence; I'm sure he wouldn't want an attack like this to take place."


Covassi explained that for three months he has been trying to convince the judicial committee that oversees Swiss intelligence services to summon him to an interview so he may explain why he ran away and give them his side of the story.


"They refuse to meet with me. If I have any indication that they are willing (to meet), I'd go back to Switzerland."


So you turned the media as means to pressure them?


"Not exactly. I turned to the media to disclose the fact that the Swiss Internal security services are trying to frame an innocent man (Hani Ramadan). It's not right. It's also my insurance policy, to speak with a journalist.


The media does not forget. It will not let go of the story until they find out the truth. I am not hiding and I can be found easily. If I go into hiding I wouldn't be safe".


According to reports from Europe, El Al, which runs three flights a week on the Tel Aviv – Geneva route, did not take any chances, and moved to the Zurich airport for a week. The airline did not respond to the episode and said it does not discuss security matters with the media.


Shin Bet officials told Ynet in response to the incident that "our past experience shows that terror organizations plan to attack Israeli targets overseas. The security forces utilize different means in order to foil the enemy's intentions, including the use of different security measures."


פרסום ראשון: 05.21.06, 22:25
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