Authors: Antony Trew
‘It is important to recognize that organized terrorism is a form of war – indeed it is rapidly becoming the most persistent and effective form of war.’
‘There is nothing more dangerously naïve than the belief that “it can’t happen here”.’
‘… advocates of the “soft” line argue that almost any concession within reach should be made if it saves one innocent life. Yet if terrorists’ blackmail succeeds once, it will certainly be tried again – with more dreadful threats and more extreme demands.’
10th April, 1975
It was cold and dark and the rain came in swathes, carried by the wind. In the glare of the headlights it seemed to the driver in the transporter’s cab like the folds of a muslin curtain, opaque here, transparent there.
A loom of light showed over the hill and he saw the
escorts swerve in behind the leading Panhard AML scout car. The loom resolved itself into twin lights which came swiftly towards the convoy.
‘Bastard,’ growled the transporter’s driver. ‘Expect he’s drunk.’ The oncoming lights were dimmed and he said, ‘That’s better.’
‘He’s scared,’ said the lieutenant. ‘Seen the escorts?’
The car passed, going slowly now. A silver Mercedes with West German number plates.
‘Boche,’ said the transporter’s driver. ‘No wonder. They’re all pigs.’
The third man in the cab said, ‘That’s an old-fashioned view, Durand.’ His forced laugh didn’t hide the note of censure. Durand was silent. It was better not to cross swords with people like the superintendent. He concentrated on the road, glancing for a moment at the driving mirror where the rear escorts showed up wet and glistening in the
’ headlights, jets of spray leaping from their tyres, the motorcyclists weaving in behind the tailing Panhard, its armour bright with reflected light.
Above the noise of the transporter’s engine and the whine of wet tyres, Durand heard the voices of the armed guards in the bunker-space behind him. Two there, four more in the transporter itself. Except for the lieutenant all, like himself, men of the CRS – Corps Républicain de Sécurité; all, like himself, in civilian clothes.
It was a formidable escort for the grey packing cases in the big transporter, numerous as they were. It had been like that all the way from Carcassonne where the convoy had halted for the guards and escorts to change. That was where he’d taken over.
At the briefing they’d been told the operation had a high security classification. They’d not been told what was in the packing cases, nor where they’d come from. Presumably the men relieved outside Carcassonne knew that, but they wouldn’t have known where the convoy was going.
Clever, thought Durand. Well organized. But not his business. They’d been warned at the briefing not to talk. For him that had been unnecessary. He always kept his mouth shut. It had taken time to get to where he was. He wasn’t going to hazard that. He pulled at the harness of the shoulder-holster, easing the pressure under his arm. The superintendent lit a cigarette. Damn him, thought Durand. It’s a dirty habit. Stinking the cab out like that.
The rain fell more heavily, hissing down, crackling against the windscreen with a sound like breaking tinder. He switched the wipers to
, concentrating on the road, watching the tail-lights ahead looming and receding. A
showed up through the rain:
‘Forty-one kilometres to go,’ said the lieutenant. ‘Not long now.’
‘Slow part’s still to come,’ said Durand.
The superintendent switched on the map-light, held his wrist under it. ‘Ten to three,’ he said. ‘We’ll be there within the hour. Won’t be much traffic in the early
‘Hope you’re right.’
Discreet white lettering on the doors of the driving-cab indicated that the transporter was the property of François Berthon et Cie, Chatillon-sous-Bagneux.
At Martiniques the convoy left the Route Nationale and
followed the loop road to the coast. It was one which carried little traffic in the early hours of morning. After Carry-
they began to shed the escorts. First to leave were the Panhard scout cars. There were no farewells, no exchanges of signals as the armoured cars reduced speed and disappeared into the darkness. When they’d gone the transporter turned north-east and made for the Route Nationale. Once on it the four outriders dropped away and the transporter swung east, heading for Marseille. The rain had stopped but not the wind.
Not long afterwards a civilian motorcyclist with leather jacket and red helmet overtook at moderate speed. Once ahead he throttled back remaining a hundred metres or so in front. Before long he was joined by another. This time the helmet was yellow.
In the cab’s mirror Durand saw the lights of two motor cyclists following behind. The four leather-jacketed riders with their bright helmets, each of a different colour, kept no particular station, accelerating and breaking from time to time, their relative positions constantly changing. It could not have been apparent to passing traffic that these men were an armed escort of the CRS.
They were well into the built-up area on the western side of Marseille where rows of sodium street lamps shed orange light over wet streets and anonymous façades. The air was heavy with the fumes of traffic and industry and the pungent smell of city streets after rain.
The superintendent held the plan under the map-light, a fingernail marking the transporter’s position. ‘We’re coming up to Rue d’Anthoine,’ he said. The traffic lights turned red, the transporter’s hydraulic brakes hissed and it came to a halt. Beyond its bonnet the leading motorcyclists sat on their machines, stolid and motionless, the lights of the transporter exaggerating the bright colours of their helmets. Above the dull rumble of the Berliet’s diesel could be heard the throb and roar of motorcycle engines. Their riders,
impatient to go, were revving the powerful engines in
‘It’s green,’ said the superintendent.
Durand nodded but said nothing. Why should he? He, too, could see. He engaged gear, released the handbrake and clutch and depressed the accelerator. The engine note rose and the Berliet moved forward.
‘Turn right into the Rue d’Anthoine,’ said the
The hauling unit turned in a wide circle, the towed body of the articulated vehicle tracking round behind it. It was seven minutes past four and Marseille was still asleep. There was little traffic, mostly farm trucks bringing in produce, and cars carrying night-shift workers home. Here and there an occasional cyclist struggled against the wind, or if it was behind him sat bolt upright making the most of it.
Towards the bottom of the Rue d’Anthoine they turned left into the Boulevard de Paris, soon afterwards right into the Boulevard Dunkerque to make towards the Gare Maritime.
‘Right at the next traffic light,’ said the superintendent. ‘That’ll take us down to the gates on the Quai Lazaret.’ They passed a stationary patrol car of the Gendarmes Mobiles, but its occupants appeared not to notice them.
The lieutenant opened a briefcase and with the aid of a torch took out some papers. ‘The shipping documents,’ he said, ‘and my identity permit.’
‘Got yours ready, Durand?’ asked the superintendent.
‘Yes. Below the instrument panel.’
‘Right,’ said the superintendent. ‘I’ll do the explaining. Leave it to me.’ He didn’t add that none would be necessary. The CRS had briefed senior port officials. The transporter would be passed through the dock gates without examination or delay subject to production of the shipping documents and port identity permits for its crew. The permits identified the three men as employees of François Berthon et Cie, haulage contractors of Chatillon-sous-Bagneux in the Department of the Seine. The faked permits had been prepared by the CRS for the men in the driving-cab. The six armed guards did not
need them for they could not be seen. Officially they were not there.
The dock gates on the Quai Lazaret showed up in the distance.
‘Flash your lights,’ said the superintendent. ‘Slow down.’
Durand did so. The four motorcyclists accelerated quickly away, leaving the transporter behind.
Durand turned the Berliet sharp left and a gendarme waved them to stop under the arc-lights at the gate-house. A port official came from it and beckoned. The superintendent climbed down from the cab, shipping documents in hand. He greeted the man and together they went into the
. Two more officials sat at desks.
‘The papers,’ said the superintendent, holding them
. ‘And my permit.’
The port official shifted a Gauloise from one side of his mouth to the other, examined the permit, shot a quick glance of enquiry at the superintendent and passed it back. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘Now the consignment notes and the export authority.’
The superintendent handed over the shipping documents. The port official stopped, holding them under the desk lamp, turning the pages with bureaucratic deliberation. ‘
machinery,’ he said, sucking at the Gaullois. ‘To be shipped in the
He consulted a berthing chart. ‘She’s lying in the Joliette Basin. Wharf Seven, Berth D. Here, see?’
The superintendent moved across to the berthing chart. ‘Yes,’ he said.‘I see.’
The official rubber-stamped and initialled the documents. ‘Right,’ he nodded. ‘She sails at daylight.’
The superintendent took the documents, went back to the transporter, climbed into the cab. ‘We can go,’ he said. ‘She’s in the Joliette Basin, Wharf Seven, Berth D. I’ll direct you.’
Durand grunted and the Berliet rolled forward. The superintendent lit a cigarette, sighing as he exuded clouds
of blue smoke. ‘Did the gendarme check your permits?’
The lieutenant said, ‘Yes. There was no trouble.’
‘Good,’ said the superintendent. ‘I didn’t think there would be.’
The Berliet nosed down the roadway between the
, past A Berth then on past B and C. In a hundred metres or so it swung left.
‘That’s her,’ said the superintendent. ‘Pull up alongside. Ahead of the crane.’
‘Small, isn’t she?’ said the lieutenant. An undistinguished coaster lay in D Berth, puffs of diesel exhaust coming from the grubby white, red-banded funnel. The name
and the port of registration
showed up on her stern. The scene was brightly lit by cargo clusters in the ship and arc-lights on the warehouse. There was no sign of life but for two men at the inboard end of the gangway.
Durand parked the Berliet ahead of the crane. A man in a peaked cap appeared on the deck of the coaster. ‘Move her back, opposite number two hold.’ He pointed to the hold immediately forward of the bridge superstructure. The crane came to life, its motor humming as it back-tracked along the rails, the jib turning in the direction of the coaster.
Durand backed the Berliet towards the crane, stopping when the man in the peaked cap shouted, ‘That’ll do.’
The superintendent and the lieutenant got out. Durand pulled a lever under the dashboard and the roof of the transporter rose slowly on side-hinges until it was fully opened. A motor in the crane whirred and the jib swung back until the cable and lifting hook plumbed the open transporter. The hook descended and the men in the transporter hitched it to the wire sling on the packing case. The crane driver pulled the lifting lever and the case came clear. The jib swung outwards towards the coaster and hovered over number two hold, the crane driver obeying the signals of the man in the peaked cap.
The men in the hold who received and stowed the grey packing case saw that it came from Duquesne Frères et Cie, manufacturers of agricultural machinery at Ouvry-sur-Maine, in the Department of the Seine. It was consigned to a well-known firm of distributors in Beirut, D. B. Mahroutti Bros, and it was the first of sixteen of various shapes and sizes to be transferred from the transporter to the ship.
While the off-loading was taking place the superintendent and the lieutenant went on board the
In the captain’s cabin they conferred earnestly with the men who’d been on the gangway when the transporter arrived. They were Syrians and both spoke excellent French. Much of the discussion was of a technical nature and in this the lieutenant took a prominent part. Documents signed, felicitations exchanged, the superintendent and lieutenant returned to the transporter where off-loading had now been completed.
The entire operation had taken less than an hour. It had been watched from beginning to end by a bearded young man concealed behind a lifeboat on the boatdeck of the
A livid scar ran from the base of his right ear down the neck into his collar. Much of the scar was concealed by the beard and long black hair. He was a member of the coaster’s crew. A new one, he’d signed on as galley-hand only two weeks before. That was the day the coaster had left Beirut for Marseille.