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American spy on secondment to GCHQ was stabbed by alleged terrorist
By Rebecca Camber Crime And Security Editor,
An American spy on secondment to GCHQ was stabbed by an alleged terrorist just three miles from its headquarters, it can now be revealed.
Police believe a woman working for US intelligence was targeted by a knifeman in an alleged terrorist attack outside a leisure centre in Cheltenham.
The victim is said to have been sitting in a car when the knifeman lashed out stabbing her in the leisure centre car park, before she managed to stagger out of the vehicle for help.
Seriously wounded, she managed to raise staff at the sports centre which was due shortly to close to the public at the time of the attack on Thursday at 9.15pm.
Yesterday the victim remained in a stable condition in hospital following surgery.
The identity of the woman has not been revealed, but the Mail has learnt that she is an American spy on secondment to the Government Communications Headquarters, which is based just three miles away.
The nature of her work has not been revealed, but GCHQ has a strong relationship with its US equivalent, the National Security Agency.
Agreements signed at the end of the World War II remain essential to the security of both nations with GCHQ saying it has ‘it has stopped many terrorist plots and has saved many lives at home and abroad.’ Last night police were still quizzing a man arrested at the scene on suspicion of carrying out a terrorist act.
Initially, the apparently targeted stabbing was treated as attempted murder, but the suspect was re-arrested on suspicion of preparing and instigating a terrorist act just 24 hours later.
In recent days police have been searching a property in Cheltenham connected to the alleged offender.
Sources said the attack was being taken seriously by GCHQ, whose staff work to identify and disrupt terror plots across the UK.
Yesterday local residents suggested the victim may have known the suspect and claimed the pair were seen arguing in the car beforehand.
‘They were either parked or had pulled into the car park when she was stabbed and then she managed to get out of the car and get to the leisure centre,’ one neighbour said.
‘There were two ambulances and then the police arrested the bloke in the car. We heard he was Asian.’ One woman who lives nearby said residents were wondering how the stabbing could be connected to a terror incident.
‘It’s pretty scary because it’s so quiet round here normally, the police never came to talk to anyone at the houses nearby so maybe they knew something about this before he was arrested.’ The leisure centre in the St Paul’s district of Cheltenham serves both members and ‘pay-as-you-go’ visitors.
Staff were seen at the venue yesterday, which remained closed to the public.
A number of cars belonging to leisure centre users and staff members who were there when the attack took place remained in the car park, which had its entry and exit barriers down.
Local Councillor Stephan Fifield said: ‘People are really curious about what happened. I was informed when it happened from the borough council but there has not been any further information, police have really locked it down.
‘It is quite a large car park between the leisure centre and the main road.
‘At that time of night there would be little reason to be there as the leisure centre was closing to the public.
‘I cannot remember there ever being anything to do with terrorism in this area.’ Counter Terrorism Policing South East said the stabbing had developed into a terrorism probe ‘due to some specific details’ but refused to go into further details.
A 29-year-old man from Cheltenham has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences.
He is currently being held on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism contrary to Section 41 of the Terrorism Act (2000), as well as on suspicion of preparing acts of terrorism under Section 5 of the Terrorism Act (2006).
Assistant Chief Constable Richard Ocone of Gloucestershire Constabulary, said: ‘I would like to reassure those living locally or visiting the county that we believe this was an isolated incident and we are not aware of any wider threat to members of the public. We are working closely with our partners in Counter Terrorism Policing.
‘We appreciate that an incident of this nature may be concerning and we would encourage people to contact us via 101 with any additional information they may have about the incident.’
A spokesperson for GCHQ declined to comment yesterday.