French terror suspect 'eyed Aussie spy base'

5th February 2004, Comments 0 comments

SYDNEY, Feb 5 (AFP) - A Frenchman suspected of plotting terror attacks in Australia tried to get information from his Australian wife about a top secret US spy post in the country, according to press reports Thursday.

SYDNEY, Feb 5 (AFP) - A Frenchman suspected of plotting terror attacks in Australia tried to get information from his Australian wife about a top secret US spy post in the country, according to press reports Thursday.

The reports, quoting French officials, said Willie Brigitte questioned his wife at length about the US-Australian electronic listening base at Pine Gap, in the central Australian desert.

Brigitte's wife, Melanie Brown, was a former member of the Australian Army Signal Corps, and was detained for four days and questioned by French authorities last month when she travelled to Paris to meet her jailed husband.

The couple married in Sydney shortly before Brigitte was detained by Australian authorities in October and expelled to France, where he has been held in prison on suspicion of working with the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Le Parisien newspaper in France and The Australian newspaper here quoted sources close to the French investigation saying Brown told her interrogators in Paris that Brigitte acted suspiciously during their brief time together.

He reportedly asked her if during her army career she had ever been inside the Pine Gap base, a top secret facility where 1,000 people, primarily from the US Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, monitor global communications.

Brigitte also allegedly asked Brown about the transmission systems and the low-frequency electronic transmitting antennae used at Pine Gap and asked if he could have her old army boots and a charger for a Uzi submachine gun.

The French police sources said Brown insisted she had not revealed any military secrets to her husband.

But a Sydney lawyer representing Brown, Stephen Hopper, said Thursday his client denied ever discussing Pine Gap with her husband.

"She says that's rubbish," Hopper said. "He never discussed Pine Gap."Brown has made a string of contradictory statements concerning Brigitte since her release from French custody.

After hearing elements of the French case against her husband, including allegations he was sent to Australia to set up an al-Qaeda cell, Brown announced last week that she would leave Brigitte.

But after seeing Brigitte in his prison outside Paris on Tuesday, Brown, 27, said she had changed her mind and would "stand by" her husband.

Brown, who converted to Islam two years ago, declared her husband was not a terrorist and then told The Sydney Morning Herald: "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

"This might get me into trouble, but I have heard it a lot and I agree."

Brown also told Australian newspapers her earlier claim to want to leave Brigitte was a ploy to get French authorities to allow her to see Brigitte.

"I played their game to that I could see Willie," she was quoted as saying.

© AFP

Subject: France news

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